Natalie Williams Earns Gold Medal With U.S. Basketball Team

Sept. 30, 2000

Sydney, Australia - Former UCLA All-American Natalie Williams won an Olympic gold medal as the U.S. Women's National Team successfully defended its Olympic title with a rousing 76-54 victory over host Australia in the gold medal game Saturday night.

Playing in front of a raucous Australian crowd of 14,978, the United States (8-0) took the lead at the 17:05 mark and never looked back. In what was perhaps the most complete and convincing of its eight wins, the U.S. dominated the game and prevented the host team from ever getting on track.

"This was definitely our best game of the tournament and I'm glad that they decided to save the best for last," U.S. head coach Nell Fortner said. "But it was a game where we knew that if you gave Australia an inch, they'd take advantage of it.

"We knew we had to keep the pressure on them and keep the lead and keep pounding it inside and controlling the boards, because once you let them in the door, they can make runs at you and really hurt you. So I thought the team did a great job of keeping a great enough distance in the score to combat their runs."

The U.S. relied on a balanced attack. Williams and Lisa Leslie each had 15 points and nine rebounds, and Sheryl Swoopes added 14 points and nine rebounds. Yolanda Griffith had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

"It definitely was our best performance," Leslie said. "Nell told us that we just had to pick up where we left off in the Korea game and not wait until the second half to pick up our intensity.

"We recognized that we couldn't let this game be a close game and let it be determined by the second half. We had to go out and make it an ugly game for Australia and disrupt what they wanted to do, and we were able to get after it for 40 minutes."

Leslie, Swoopes, Nikki McCray, Ruthie Bolton-Holifield and Dawn Staley were members of the U.S. team that won gold in Atlanta in 1996.

So was Teresa Edwards, the most decorated basketball player in Olympic history. The Sydney games marked the fifth and final Olympics for Edwards, who has four gold medals and one bronze.

The U.S. women have now collected four gold medals, one silver (1976) and one bronze (1992) in their six Olympic appearances.

Lauren Jackson led Australia (7-1) with 20 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks.

After Australia scored the game's first basket on a Jackson layup, the fans made it clear that they intended to give added meaning to the term "home-court advantage." But the experienced U.S. squad never lost its composure and managed to make the partisan Australian crowd a non-factor.

With Australia trailing by three, 26-23 at the 8:43 mark, the U.S. reeled off nine straight points on a Katie Smith three-pointer, one free throw from Williams and five consecutive points from Leslie.

Australia cut the U.S. lead to 35-26 at the 3:32 mark, but Leslie scored again and Edwards hit a three-pointer as the shot clock was about to expire, shifting the momentum back to Team USA. The Americans held a 43-30 halftime advantage.

The Aussies opened the second half with an 8-2 run to close to within seven, and with 13:44 to play, the U.S. lead was eight, 53-45.

Following a U.S. timeout, Williams scored five points as the Americans blew open the game with a 11-2 run that saw their lead expanded to 64-47 with 9:29 to go. From there the suspense was gone, and the U.S. cruised in for the win.

In what became a trademark throughout the Olympics, the U.S. hammered its opponent in the post and played a smothering defense that never allowed Australia to get on track. The U.S. outrebounded the Australians 48-27 and outscored them 46-24 in the paint. The American defense limited the Aussies to a miserable 30.8 percent from the floor, including 2-for-13 from three-point range. The U.S. shot a respectable 50.0 percent.

"I think there's no question that depth is the key to why this is such a strong team," Fortner said. "We started the same lineup the whole tournament, but our bench really played a big part. If you think about it, you've got Lisa and Yo (Griffith) going at you hard for eight minutes and then you've got Natalie Williams, who's just a monster on the boards and a very physical player. And then in comes Ruthie Bolton-Holifield, who's a great three-point shooter. We've just got a lot of bullets in the gun."

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