LONDON — Geno Auriemma likes it nice and simple.
“I like coaching the best team, with the best players,” he says. “If we lose, it’s my fault.”
Losing? What exactly does that mean?
The last time the United States women’s basketball team lost in this particular competition was the semifinal game of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics against what was then the CIS team. That would be the Russians. The next time may be 2092 the way this thing is going. If something goes wrong in the interim, they’ll be blaming some other coach. Geno’s going to retire undefeated in this role.
Unlike the women’s soccer team, another major international power, the basketball team doesn’t do suspense. What they specialize in is complete and utter domination. Truly, it was Just Another Night At The Office for them Saturday as they pummeled France, 86-50, to win America’s fifth straight gold medal in this sport.
They’re so good at this it does make people forget that it takes a little bit of work.
“I don’t think people realize how difficult it is,” said point guard Sue Bird, whose personal gold medal collection now stands at three. “To be this consistent when you’re going against the other countries’ best. That’s very often overlooked.”
The truth is this group really hadn’t been together very long before arriving in London. But they are just so talented, and so committed to the singular goal of winning gold, that they put on nightly clinics suggesting they may have been playing together for years.
The French were just another speed bump in the way of this team’s inexorable march to the top step of the podium. France hit some early shots and even put themselves ahead on the scoreboard for a grand total of one minute and five seconds. Let the record show that Team France led by scores of 13-11 and 13-12.
And also let the record show that the game swung in America’s favor on the next possession, which is when Candace Parker introduced herself to the French by taking a feed from Diana Taurasi and depositing a layup for the go-ahead basket at 14-13.
Parker started the first three games before being replaced by Maya Moore. That would be one-time college Player of the Year replacing one-time college Player of the Year, but that, of course, is what this team is all about. Anyway, Parker was coming off the bench in this one and she was about to channel her inner Kevin McHale.
Simply put, the French were helpless to stop her. She is 6 feet 4 inches, awesomely athletic and smart. She was particularly damaging to the French cause in the second period when she triggered a 13-2 run with a pair of follow-ups, a beautiful coast-to-coast drive capped off by a driving scoop shot and a fast-break layup. By halftime she had 15 points (on 7-for-9 shooting) and nine rebounds, and the US had a 37-25 lead.
Parker finished with a game-high 21 and 11, shooting 10 for 14 from the floor and earning player of the game honors, if there were such a thing.
“It’s everyone’s dream to play on a stage like this,” Parker said. “I’ve dreamed of this since 1996, watching that team in Atlanta. On this team, everyone has her moment. I was carried in other games. We’re just so 1-to-12 deep. What we do is wear down the other team. That’s what makes us so special.”
The French would have been well advised to seek a truce at intermission. That way they would have been spared the humiliation of being on the wrong end of a 19-0 second-half run, the highlight of which was a 40-foot pass from Bird to a streaking Moore, who caught the ball in stride and laid it in without the ball touching the floor.
The Americans could have won this game without ever making an outside shot. It was 64-37 after three, and Team USA had made 17 layups. You want more stats? Try the US forcing 21 turnovers, good for 27 points. Or France shooting a dismal 28 percent (18 for 64) from the floor.
Right now it remains America vs. the world in women’s basketball. The valiant Australians were the only one of America’s eight opponents to come within 25 (86-73). And by the time Rio rolls around in 2016, people may have to deal with a 6-8 force named Brittney Griner. The only thing we know for sure is that if they lose it won’t be Geno’s fault. He did his job and his ladies did theirs.