By Jeffrey Newholm
Behind Brittney Griner’s smothering defense and 15 points the USA women’s team defeated Australia 73-56 to win gold in the FIBA World Cup. Aussie’s Liz Cambage seemed to be a lock for tournament MVP entering the game. However, Griner used her considerable frame and long arms to limit her close friend to seven points and a shocking +/- of -23. Griner earned gold game MVP for her efforts while Breanna Stewart stole tournament MVP.
By the time ESPN cut away from post-game of a tiring Red Bulls game the US had already jolted out 10-0. But America’s shooting grew cold in the second quarter and gritty Australia trailed just 27-35 at halftime. However, the southern Opals clearly tired and became demoralized in the second half. Sue Bird and Griner began the third with successive buckets and the margin was never again in single digits. Coach Dawn Staley, who improbably also won FIBA gold as a player, emptied the bench as the US easily cruised in the fourth. The game ended on an odd anticlimax as the Opals hit a three as the horn sounded. But the Aussies celebrated anyways. They were very pleased to have earned silver despite falling to 0-18 against the US.
As Pat Summit observed (and as her Vols discover in harder times today), winning is a transitory phenomenon. But US dominance has been ongoing for so long almost all competitors must be excused for thinking otherwise. Beginning in 1996, with the Soviets no longer a part of the game, the US has an unthinkable 100-1 record in international play. Despite not having the best 12 players in the country due to various excuses, America was so deep and talented Staley almost couldn’t go wrong. Granted, defense and passing were quite sloppy in group play. But group D was so weak it served as an extended training camp for the team. This benefited several pros after a long WNBA season. Nigeria and Belgium didn’t nearly have the experience to outlast the Americans. With Griner smothering Cambage even undefeated Australia was swept aside as a silver down note.
After hosts awarded Spain and Australia their medals, very subdued Spanish fans politely observed 12 very poised American champions. What was going through their minds as the confetti rained down? More than a penny’s worth of intrigue, however, is needed to understand the highly successful. And even Jeff Bezos’s fortune was not worth Bird’s pride as she accepted the trophy from Queen Letizia Rocasolano. Although treated more like paupers in their home country, basketball fans not hooked by NFL Sunday knew better. For the third World Cup/Championship in a row, the US republic had uncharacteristically crowned basketball queens.
The very odd human tendency to work very hard towards a goal and then want more ensures Sunday’s memory will eventually ebb. The US clinched a berth in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (although this was a virtual certainty), where they will hoop for a record seventh straight gold. Most WNBA players will quickly transition to big money play overseas this winter. But after the last second of the Final Four, WNBA will tip-off again. 2018 was an unprecedented season of success for the league. However, Cambage voiced uncertainty towards returning, alleging (properly) less pay and respect. With one local Milwaukee station showing card tricks opposite the NFL, it’s clear ESPN didn’t think too highly of the time slot. The legion of snide haters marches against feminism daily and may never recede completely. But for one shining moment fans, players, and Staley’s coaches can slow down with a smile. For the hundredth time in 101 tries, the red and white blew out foreign pretenders for an American first triumph that fans of all stripes can relish.