The U.S. women’s basketball team have been a victim of their own success — so good that they tend to be taken for granted; never quite receiving the hype that their male counterparts get, but living under the pressure of knowing that a loss would be far bigger news than another gold medal.
“What I hope happens is that, if we are fortunate enough to win a gold medal, that that’s a big deal,” Coach Geno Auriemma said. “Instead of, you know what the big deal is, if we lose. Which is unfortunate, because this team, these players, these women have accomplished so much. They’ve done so much. And maybe because they’ve won so much, they probably don’t get the respect they truly deserve for how dominant they have been.”
Speaking of that dominant play, Diana Taurasi has simply been unworldly for Team USA. She broke the United States women’s basketball Olympic record for most three-pointers in a game with six in just the first half of the Americans’ third pool play game against Serbia on Wednesday. Taurasi had just tied the record that was already hers in the first place on Sunday when she hit five against Senegal, and now she’s broken it with a lot of time to go. She’s been incredible from the backcourt, shooting the lights out during the first three games of the tournament.
Taurasi jump-started the US offense in their game against Serbia. She hit 5-of-7 threes in the first half—hitting her first attempt of the third quarter to make it six—and went 5-of-5 at the free throw line to score 22 points in just 16 minutes. Taurasi is averaging 17.7 points in the tournament, her highest ever in the four Olympics she’s played in.
It’s difficult to single out the performance of one player on this team, a team that saw five players reach double-digit scoring, with all 12 players scoring in their victory over Serbia and it was the first time the U.S. women had scored 100 points three games in a row in Olympic play. The Americans have never done that in the Olympics and are on pace to break the 102.4 points a game the 1996 team averaged en route to their gold medal that started the run of five straight that the U.S. is currently on, the victory was the 44th straight in the Olympics for the Americans.
Breanna Stewart is another prime example of the overwhelming depth of USA. Stewart scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds against Serbia in what was easily her best of the three games that the USA has played. Stewart hasn’t even played a full season of professional basketball—her college pedigree landed her a spot on Team USA. She’s surely the 12th-best player on this roster, which is an insane thought considering she’d easily start for most other countries in the tournament.
Nine of the 12 members on this roster own Olympic gold medals. All 12 are currently playing in the WNBA. Every member has a shot at being the MVP of any game the USA plays in. It’s this chemistry and razor-sharp focus that carries this team to the next level. “I don’t even know what we did in the past. If we live in that kind of age of when are we going to lose, you’re probably going to lose,” said Diana Taurisi when asked if a fear of losing motivates Team USA. “You just keep looking forward to the next game, our next opponent, how can we get better as a group, as a team. That’s the way we look at it in our locker room.”
Women’s basketball has never seen a powerhouse like this, one who will not just hit cruise control as they look toward their last match-ups before the quarterfinals. They embrace the biggest stage and shine brightest in the Olympics, this team has never underperformed or brought controversy to the games. “We know the competition is not going to be easy,” said Sue Bird, who is looking to win her fourth gold medal. “One thing about the Olympics is that it’s unlike anything else. This is a big stage, a big event, and every country that is here, they want to make the most of the opportunity as well. Every single possession, every single game, there is a lot of intensity there. You have to be ready for that.”
The US. women continue their gold medal defense during a final preliminary round game against China at 11:15 a.m. (EDT) on Aug. 14. It’s hard to imagine that the five-straight gold medals streak will end in Rio, as Team USA has now gone over 20 years since the last time the team suffered an Olympic loss. That’s true dominance.