Parker, Lawson lead USA to gold

Valdivia, Chile – Former Tennessee Lady Vol All-American Kara Lawson checked in to add 14 points and teamed with current All-American Candace Parker to help lead the USA to a 101-71 victory over Cuba in the gold medal game of the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship. The win secured the USA an Olympic berth in Beijing.

"We came out and jumped on them early, did what we needed to do," said Candace Parker, a junior who will now return to Tennessee to get ready to try to defend the Lady Vols' 2006-07 national championship. "They didn't have an answer for our defense and for our transition play. We just pushed the ball and played together. ... I'm just so proud of how we played."

Said Kara Lawson, "This feels great. We really wanted another chance at Cuba. The first game they played us really tough, and we felt like we were just getting our feet wet in the tournament. Since that game we really came together and gelled.

"We basically blew out teams because we played the style that we wanted to play: Get up and down, score a lot of points, make them tired and use all 12 players. So it's fitting for us to end the tournament on this type of note. It's a real positive for us, getting that berth to Beijing."

Lawson finished with 14 points, two boards and an assist. She was 4-7 from behind the arc. Parker was credited with 12 points, four boards, an assist and a steal.

A double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds from Diana Taurasi also highlighted three other U.S. scorers in double digits as the USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team (5-0) completed its mission of qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics by crushing Cuba (3-2) on Sunday afternoon in Valdivia, Chile.

Also scoring in double digits in helping the United States capture the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship gold medal were Tina Thompson with a game-high 18 points and Katie Smith, who scored 15.

Brazil (4-1) earned the bronze medal after ripping Argentina (2-3) 73-41. Argentina, Brazil and Cuba still have a shot at the 12-nation Olympic field as they've all qualified to compete in the 2008 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament, scheduled to be played next June at a site TBD.

"It feels great to have a berth to Beijing and have this behind us," said USA and Seattle Storm head coach Anne Donovan. "But what feels better is where we are right now as a team. I feel so proud with how hard these women have worked and how much it's paid off."

Continuing to improve daily since their opening contest against Cuba, the USA women went up 16-0 before the game was even four minutes old. Their stifling defense during that time forced Cuba into 10 missed field goals before Oyanaisis Gelis Gonzalez put her squad on the board at 5:56.

"We didn't come out like that the first time so we kind of gave them some hope that we would come out like that again," Parker said. "But we knew that with the type of basketball that we play, we come out like that every night, we learned from the first game, and we've been coming out strong like that ever since."

The USA's lead ballooned to 25-5 by the 2:10 mark. But a determined Cuban squad reeled off seven consecutive points and by the first quarter break the USA's 20-point lead was down to 16, 29-13.

"We jumped on them right away," Donovan said. "I thought we stayed focused throughout the game with our bench. It was a really great effort throughout this tournament, five games in five days. We started with the best team in the tournament, we finished with the best team in the tournament.

"We could see Cuba start to wear down throughout this tournament, and that's where our depth and our bench comes into play. If they've been watching us play they had to think twice about how we were going to start this game. We started exactly the way we wanted to and ran the whole game, which is what we wanted to do, keep the pressure on them."

Cuba looked outside to its 3-point shooters, who helped cut the gap to 31-19 early in the second quarter. However, the United States simply had too much in its arsenal, hitting shots from inside and outside, mid-range jumpers and layups, even a couple of free throws. By halftime eight different players had contributed to the 49-30 advantage, including Thompson and Smith with 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Cuba attempted to keep pace with the USA in the third quarter, hoping to replicate its 31-15 performance in that span versus Brazil in last night's semifinal contest; however, the United States was simply too deep and talented.

"We came into this game real focused," Taurasi said. "We played them in the first game and we watched film this morning and saw we didn't play well in that first game. We were offensively and defensively kind of hesitant. Today we came out and played aggressive on both ends and it showed for 40 minutes.

"The beauty about this team is that any combination of five players out there were confident and it showed on the court. This was definitely a statement tournament for us."

Cuba kept the game within 20 points through the second half's first four minutes (63-43), but the USA used a 15-1 run to close the period firmly in command, 78-44, and closed out the game with the gold medal and a ticket to Beijing. In addition to the scoring contributions from Lawson, Parker, Smith, Taurasi and Thompson, the USA's gold medal victory was aided by four assists apiece from Cappie Pondexter Smith and Taurasi.

Edging Cuba 44-38 on the glass, the USA shot an even 50 percent from the field, including a sizzling 42.3 percent (11-26 3pt FGs) from 3-point, and limited the island nation to just 33.8 percent (25-74 FGs) from the floor and 31.0 percent (9-29 3pt FGs) from beyond the arc.

In consolation play Mexico (1-4) earned its first win with a 62-55 victory over Jamaica (0-5) to finish in seventh place, while Canada (3-2) defeated host Chile (2-3) 86-68 for fifth place.

Donovan is being assisted through the 2008 Olympics by 2006 WNBA Coach of the Year Mike Thibault of the Connecticut Sun and collegiate head coaches Gail Goestenkors of Texas and Temple's Dawn Staley.

Argentina, Brazil and Cuba, along with nine other national teams from around the globe who did not claim gold at the remaining FIBA zones, including two from Africa (silver and bronze medalists), two from Asia (silver and bronze medalists), four from Europe (second through fourth place finishers) and one from Oceania (silver medalist), will compete for the final five Olympic slots at the 2008 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

If we could take this team, this effort that we've made, this progress that we've made in these three or four weeks, if we could pick up where we leave off, this team will be in great shape come Beijing," Donovan said.

"I really can't say enough about where we are defensively and where our focus is, our energy and concentration. We have great offensive powers. But it's the other end of the floor that we've figured out. As long as we don't take any steps backwards and every time we get together for a training camp we move forward, we're going to be in good shape."

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