On this day: Women complete mission for U.S. basketball | 1996 Atlanta Olympics

Credit: Allsport

Credit: Allsport

Editor’s Note: This story was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Aug. 5, 1996, as U.S. women joined the men as gold medalists in the same Games for just the second time in Olympic history. This is a daily take of the events that transpired on the 25th anniversary of the Games in Atlanta.

America’s best no-nickname Olympic team closed out Centennial Games competition Sunday with a rousing gold medal victory over Brazil.

Sixty times they took to the court over the past year, never to leave it a loser. Fittingly, Brazil took the lopsided 111-87 loss.

“I think it’s payback time,” U.S. coach Tara VanDerveer said before the game. “I think our team will be ready. I really want us to well. I want the final chapter to be a positive one.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Consider the book closed.

In the earlier bonze medal game, Australia beat Ukraine 66-56, to win that country’s first Olympic basketball medal.

In shooting 66 percent (43 of 65) from the field, the U.S. women not only knocked off the reigning world championship titlist and reclaimed gold lost at Barcelona, they spanked the last team to beat them, and righted their basketball world.

For the first time since 1984, America — land of Dr. Naismith’s basketball-inspiring dream — can claim Olympic women’s and men’s champions. The U.S. women had a higher hill to climb.

Now, 15 months after the inaugural National Team was selected and evolved into the Olympic squad, their job is done.

“I think we’re happy,” said guard Teresa Edwards, an Atlantan who became the first person to win three Olympic basketball gold medals. “I think we want our life back. We want to live again.”

An early second-half spurt buried the Brazilians, and their half- hearted defensive efforts soon found them in a hole they’d never climb out of.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Katrina McClain scored four in a 10-2 start after the intermission which pushed the U.S. edge to 67-48 with 16:12 left. Four minutes later, the Americans were fast-breaking away, and the second of Lisa Leslie back- to-back open-floor layups had Brazil down 85-57, and U.S. coach Tara VanDerveer began sending in her reserves.

Leslie led the U.S. with a game-high 29 points, Sheryl Swoopes scored 16, McClain 12 and Ruthie Bolton, 15.

“I just knew I wanted to win and have my teammates count on me scoring inside,” said Leslie, who was 12-for-14 from the field. “It’s the best game I’ve ever played, the best moment of my life. We’re No. 1.”

Edwards, who became the first person in the world to win three basketball gold medals, had another splendid floor game.

In a frenetic first half, the U.S. closed with a 31-16 run over the final 10:49. Edwards (nine points, 10 assists, four rebounds), Leslie, Bolton, Swoopes and backup guard Nikki McCray provided the U.S. women with the early roll they needed.

Brazil’s backcourt tandem of Paula and Hortencia scored only seven and 11 points, respectively, after combining for 61 in the ‘94 World Championship victory.

After finally overtaking Russia for its first gold in and ‘84, then repeating in ‘88, the U.S. tumbled to third in ‘92.

But a financial commitment from USA Basketball, coupled with the players’ and coaches’ personal sacrifices, has paid off.

Day 16: Dream Team captures gold, again