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U.S. Women’s hoops come up gold again

Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO — Geno Auriemma and Diana Taurasi shared a long, emotional embrace. Mission accomplished.

The U.S. women’s basketball team won a sixth consecutive Olympic gold medal in dominant fashion, routing Spain 101-72 on Saturday. Taurasi and the Americans played nearly flawless basketball in Rio, and were never challenged. They have won 49 consecutive games in the Olympics with only one of those decided by single digits.

With that kind of sustained success, no one wants to say this is the best women’s basketball team ever assembled. They won by nearly 40 points a game, but fell short of the record 102.4 points the 1996 team averaged.

But if they aren’t the best ever, they’re close. There never really was any doubt that the U.S. would win the gold in Rio. The only question was by how much.

Still, closure to their journey Saturday had Auriemma and Taurasi both fighting back tears.

Unlike their semifinal win over France when the Americans looked discombobulated for a half, the U.S. was more fluid offensively. It helped having guard Sue Bird back in the lineup. The four-time gold medalist missed the semifinal game with a sprained right knee capsule. She wasn’t 100 percent Saturday, but was good enough.

The U.S., which beat Spain by 40 in a preliminary round game, got off to a slow start and only led 21-17 after the first quarter. The Americans were up 27-24 in the second quarter before getting going.

Auriemma turned to something very familiar to him to spark the Americans

The UConn coach put his five former Huskie players on the court at the same time for the first time in the Olympics and that group started the 16-3 run that blew it open. Breanna Stewart got the spurt started with two free throws. Taurasi then hit consecutive 3-pointers — her first points of the game — as the Americans scored 10 straight.

By the time Lindsay Whalen’s layup just beat the halftime buzzer, the U.S. led 49-32 and Spain had just two baskets in the final 6:55 of the half. Whalen finished the game with 17 points, tied for the team lead with Taurasi.

Spain never threatened in the second half. Auriemma started the fourth quarter with Bird, Taurasi and Tamika Catchings on the court and the game in hand. The three four-time Olympians have had a tremendous impact on USA Basketball over the past 12 years. He took the trio out together for one final time with 5:44 left in the game.

Auriemma had said from the start this group was on a mission that is now complete.

Even with the loss, Spain earned its first Olympic medal in women’s basketball. The Spaniards have been on the rise lately, also winning a silver medal at the 2014 world championship. They are hosting the 2018 worlds.

But Saturday, just like the rest of this tournament, was all about the U.S.

No American team has been deeper with Catchings as its 12th player. They trailed for just over 11 minutes in the entire Olympics and the biggest deficit was just four points — 6-2 to France.