There was no disputing the fact the United States were going to stuff the stat sheet in Rio. They arrived with the best female basketball talent on the planet, and with one of the winningest coaches the game has ever seen.
This combination has yielded incredible dividends thus far. The United States concluded Group Play on Sunday with a resounding 105-62 win over China; the 43-point victory less of an anomaly and more of a trend as the team has outscored its first five opponents by a combined 203 points.
While this team seems well on their way to securing a sixth-straight gold medal, it also has been rewriting the Olympic record books in process. First, it was the points scored record that the United States set in a 121-point outburst in its opening game against Senegal. In the same game they also tied the made three pointers record (10) and set the record for the most assists in a game (36).
Exactly a week later they overwrote their own historic performance against Senegal by dishing out 40 team assists in the win over China.
“When you have 40 assists in a basketball game, and I talked to the team about it, there can’t be anything better in the game of basketball then when you get an assist,” Coach Auriemma said after the performance. “You can get rebounds, blocked shots, whatever, all that’s great, you get a bucket, but when you know you made it possible to help one of your teammates get an easy basket, that to me, that’s basketball.”
This kind of appreciation for shared greatness begins with Auriemma. The 11-time NCAA champion with the UConn Huskies, and two-time gold medalist as the head coach of the Women’s National Team has reached the pinnacle of women’s basketball so frequently because of his predilection for unselfishness.
“At halftime, I looked up and saw we had 24, and it’s like you would love that in game, you know,” said the squad’s leading assist-getter Sue Bird postgame. “You come into the locker room after a game and coach would praise you for sharing the ball and getting each other involved. Coach Auriemma is used to being in that position. I think more than any of us is used to being in that position.”
Bird’s hint at the fact that Coach Auriemma praises a team with so much scoring talent for sharing the ball is a testament to not only his understanding of what it takes to win Olympic gold but also how these stars have bought into the concept of togetherness.
Three-time gold medalist Tamika Catchings describes this sentiment well, “I’m feeling good about this team. I think the best part about it is the unselfishness that we have. You want to get it to the open person. Every single game, every single practice, we’ve gotten so much better, moving the ball really well.”
That is coming from a 10-time All-Star and former WNBA Champion. Like any of her other teammates, Catchings could average 20 points a game but sees value, and more importantly success, in distributing the ball with the intention of getting the best possible look.
The statistic that speaks most to this team’s unselfishness is the fact that they are one 100-point victory from tying the U.S. Olympic record but none of the team’s 12 members are even in the top 12 in scoring in the tournament. The team’s leading scorer, Diana Taurasi (14.2 pts per game) has also doled out the third most assists (19).
In total the 2016 Olympic team has assisted on 152 of the squad’s 202 made baskets, and are already more than halfway to besting the record for total assists of 207 set by the 1996 team in Atlanta.
Going forward, the United States is now three wins away from gold in Rio. While many expected them to be the undisputed favorite it would have been hard to also believe that this team would shatter the record books one pass at a time.