Aug. 27, 2004
ATHENS, Greece – The United States women’s basketball team passed its toughest test to date at the 2004 Olympic Games, defeating Russia, 66-62 on Friday at the Olympic Indoor Hall in Athens, Greece. Former Notre Dame All-America center and 2001 consensus National Player of the Year Ruth Riley did not play for the first time in seven games at these Olympics, but she did witness the Americans extended their winning streak in Olympic competition to 24 games, dating back to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. With the victory, Team USA will play Australia for the gold medal Saturday at 8:15 a.m. South Bend time (4:15 p.m. in Athens). The Opals booked their spot in the Olympic final with an 88-75 win over Brazil on Friday morning, getting 26 points and 13 rebounds from reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player Lauren Jackson (Seattle Storm) in the victory. Saturday’s gold medal game will be televised live in the United States on the USA network, while the bronze medal game between Russia and Brazil will be seen live on CNBC at 6:00 a.m. South Bend time (2:00 p.m. in Athens). After rolling over its first six opponents by an average margin of 29 points per game, Team USA had to beat back a determined Russian squad that was paced by WNBA veteran Elena Baranova (New York Liberty) and 6-foot-8 center Maria Stepanova (formerly of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury). Following four ties and five lead changes in the first half, the U.S. led all the way in the second half, although Russia did cut the lead to one point (45-44) on a Stepanova free throw late in the third quarter. However, baskets by Diana Taurasi, Shannon Johnson and Tina Thompson helped the Americans rebuild a 57-48 edge with 8:10 remaining. The Russians made one final charge, going on a 10-3 run to pull within 60-58 at the four-minute mark. Three-time Olympian Sheryl Swoopes then took over for Team USA, sandwiching a pair of jumpers around a blocked shot in less than a minute. Thompson followed with a layup and the U.S. had all the advantage it would need to move into the gold medal round. Thompson led four Team USA players in double figures with 14 points. Lisa Leslie and Tamika Catchings each scored 11 points and Yolanda Griffith added 10 points for the Americans. Russia also had four double-digit scorers, highlighted by 13 points from Tatiana Shchegoleva and 11 markers from Stepanova. Riley is the first Notre Dame women’s basketball player to take part in Olympic competition. She also is the first Irish cager of any kind to play in the Olympics since Adrian Dantley won a gold medal with the U.S. squad in 1976. Vince Boryla also took home the gold with the American basketball team in 1948, while Bill Hanzlik never got that chance in 1980 due to a U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Games.
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