USA Basketball Takes Gold in 89-69 Win over Czech Republic

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The USA Basketball Women’s World Championship Team (9-0) stormed out of the locker room at halftime on a 15-2 run to pull away from host Czech Republic (6-3) and finished the night with the eventual 89-69 gold medal victory at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. The win saw four players score in double digits, led by a game-high 18 points from Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream).

With the gold medal victory, played in front of a boisterous and deafening crowd of Czech supporters who never gave up hope on their squad, the USA became the first team to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Summer Games that will be held July 27-Aug. 12 in London, England.

In addition to McCoughtry, the USA’s offense was paced by Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) with 16 points, Tina Charles (Connecticut Sun) tossed in 13 points and grabbed a game-best 10 boards, including six on the offensive end; and Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) chipped in 11 points and dished out three assists.

Taurasi was named to the five-member All-World Championship Team along with Hana Horakova and Eva Viteckova of the Czech Republic, Yelena Leuchanka of Belarus, and Amaya Valdemoro of Spain.

“I thought the Czech team played with so much heart and so much passion and they’re so smart,” said USA and University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma. “Every time you make a mistake, they make a basket. I can’t tell you with how impressed I am with coach (Lubor Blazek) and his style of play. That was the best team we played in the entire tournament, without question. We’re fortunate to be world champions. I know my players worked really, really hard. To do it here, in the Czech Republic, against the Czech national team, in front of an unbelievable crowd. The crowd last night was incredible and tonight was just as good. I think it makes this win even more rewarding because of who we had to beat and where we had to beat them.”

The American women now own a 97-21 (.822) all-time record since the first FIBA World Championship was held in 1953, earned their ninth straight podiumfinish at the Worlds dating to the 1979 tournament, and the 2010 gold medal represented a record eighth gold for the U.S. in World Championship competition.

The silver marked the first medal of any color for Czech Republic in World Championship play. In addition to the silver being the first medal for the host nation, Spain (7-2) also earned its first World Championship medal after defeating Belarus (4-5) 77-68 in the bronze medal game.

“I think it really speaks to the talent, the amount of talent that we have in the U.S. I mean, here is a team filled with great players, and if you think back to the Olympics, we are missing two people who were in our top seven,” said Bird, who now has two World Championship gold medals and one World Championship bronze to go with two Olympic golds. “When you look at some of the players that got left off this roster that could of made it, it just really speaks to our depth. I think that is why we are able to beat teams the way we did. We just kind of wear them down with our depth.”

The first quarter started out with the USA taking a 10-4 lead, which grew to17-9 after McCoughtry bookended a Fowles put-back with a 3-point play and a pair of free throws. By the end of the quarter, however, the Czechs trailed by just five, 19-14.

Making small runs, the USA was able to pull away by double digits four times in the second quarter and twice owned a 12-point lead, including a 40-28 edge with 2:09 to go before halftime. The Czechs, however, were energized by the crowd and would not back down. Following a bucket at 1:43, Eva Viteckova sunk a wide-open three to cut it to seven at 1:17. Hana Horakova followed that by picking off a U.S. pass, which she converted into two points at the end of the half, and the hosts were once again five points down, 40-35.

“We knew it was going to be a hard game,” said Taurasi. “It’s never easy to win, especially on another person’s home court. Coach came in here and basically said focus on each play. Don’t worry about the final score. Don’t worry if it’s the fourth quarter, two minutes left, just focus on every possession. That really helped to calm everyone down. “

The Czechs opened the second half with a put-back to close to three points, 40-37, but that was as close as they would get. Taurasi answered with a 3-pointer and Bird followed that with a layup following a Czech turnover. Those back-to-back U.S. buckets spurred what was to become the game-clinching 15-2 run that ended with the U.S. up 55-39 with 7:01 to play in the third. The Czechs called for a time out after Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) picked a Czech pocket, tore down the court and got a layup to end the run.

“I‘ve been fortunate,” said Auriemma. “I’ve been around a lot of those (championships) with Diana. She never stops amazing me. There are things that Diana does on the basketball court that most people don’t even recognize. But I knew when that run was going to happen coming out of the locker room that she was going to be the one in charge.”

Out of the break the Czechs hit a jumper, but Bird hit a three to start a 7-0 USA spurt, and at 3:40 the Americans owned a 21-point cushion, 62-41. From there both teams traded buckets, and with 1:41 left in the third period, the USA’s lead was 67-47. A McCoughtry 3-point play and a fast breaking layup put the nail in the coffin, 72-47, with 1:13 to play before the quarter break, and at the end of the third period the USA’s lead was 74-52.

The Czechs never seriously threatened, but won the fourth quarter 17-15 for the final score.

“We waited four years for this moment and to feel like this again,” said Catchings, who along with Bird and Taurasi was on the 2006 USA World Championship Team that returned with the bronze medal. “To come out with the group we had was absolutely amazing. The atmosphere was an amazing game. This is what we came here for, and we accomplished our mission.”

The U.S., which has relied on its tenacious defense all tournament, scored 28 points off of 20 Czech turnovers. Tallying 36 points in the paint, the United States had 19 second-chance points and 22 on the fast break. The USA outrebounded the Czechs 43-29 and only committed 12 turnovers.

Earlier in the day, Russia (7-2) finished in seventh place with a 87-76 win over South Korea (3-6), while Australia (7-2) took fifth place after finishing off France (5-4) 74-62.

The gold medal finish also entered Swin Cash (Seattle Storm) and Taurasi into an exclusive list of players who have won Olympic and FIBA World Championship gold, a WNBA title and NCAA crown. They join current USA teammate Bird, as well as Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Kara Wolters as the only U.S. players in history to win all four.

Candice Dupree (Phoenix Mercury) shot a blistering 75.0 percent (39-52 FGs) from the field over the course of the nine-day tournament to leap to the top of the USA’s all-time World Championship field goal percentage record. She surpassed her former college coach and three-time Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley. Staley, who won two gold medals and one bronze in three Worlds, shot 69.2 percent (27-39 FGs) in the 1994 World Championship.

Assisting Auriemma and the USA National Team through the 2010 FIBA World Championship were DePaul University head coach Doug Bruno, Los Angeles Sparks head coach Jennifer Gillom and Atlanta Dream head coach / general manager Marynell Meadors.
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