(Photo credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Ouch. When two of your best players--Penny Taylor and Lauren Jackson--are dinged coming into the Gold Medal game against the USA juggernaut, the margin of error for victory is minuscule. Everything--and everyone else--has to be just about perfect. Unfortunately, the Aussies shot poorly against a tough, but not overwhelming USA defense, and got pasted in the championship game 92-65. The final score wasn't indicative of the entire contest; if Australia had managed to hit their open looks, this bout would have been much more competitive. The reality is however that if any team shoots 25 percent overall, they're probably going to lose. Not even superior offensive rebounding--a decided 23-6 advantage for the Aussies--will win the day, if you can't finish around the basket.
After committing five turnovers in the first quarter, the Aussies were able to handle USA's pressure defense, but still couldn't convert either their three point shots, or mid range pick and pops. USA's Kara Lawson came off the bench to lead them in scoring with 11 points in the first half, providing the spark the ladies needed to take control of the game. Lawson for the game went 5-5, scoring 15 points in a superb performance.
The USA lost their focus a bit in the third quarter, when the referees--awful by any standard of international or professional play--allowed the game to get even more physical than normal. Australia kept making small runs to keep the score respectable, but couldn't consistently get enough stops to translate into easy baskets that would have turned the momentum of the game. USA's depth came through, with Sylvia Fowles, Candice Parker and Sue Bird all putting up great second half numbers to stop any significant Aussie threat.
The real question is if Taylor and Jackson were at full strength, would the result have been any different for Australia? In this particular competition, probably not. Both USA men's and women's team are too deep and focused; the Spaniards will probably suffer the same result tomorrow against the men's team. As contributor Auswolf has pointed out, the Aussies have faired much better in the World Championships, but there seems to be something special about Olympic play. While the men have struggled in past Olympics, the women--with veterans like Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson as cornerstones--have been strong. What's worse for the rest of the world is that USA is retooling--players like Parker, Fowles and Augustus are getting invaluable experience playing supporting roles in these Olympics. Even in this time of changing loyalties, that's an ominous development for the other international competitors.
One last shout out has to go to Becky Hammon, who after leading Russia to bronze again had to put up with NBC/Turner Sports Craig Sager's last attempt at national guilt, in a cutaway interview during the Gold Medal game. Even staunch, old school traditionalists like Ann Meyers-Drysdale have acknowledged that the world has changed. It's funny, and a bit sad, that folks like Sager can't. Why NBC would want the subject to come up--after all that's been said about it--is curious. Journalistic freedom?