ATHENS, Greece – They missed shots, threw the ball away and got beat on defense — but in the end, Shannon Johnson (search) and Tina Thompson (search) helped the Americans pull off another gold-medal victory.
Johnson and Thompson gave the United States a huge lift with their second-half scoring, and the Americans beat Australia 74-63 on Saturday for their third straight Olympic basketball title.
The U.S. players finally got their game together after falling behind by four points in the second half. They turned up the defense, crashed the boards harder and, most important, found their shooting touch — something the U.S. men's team failed to do.
Johnson, a 5-foot-7 guard who has been called Pee Wee since childhood, hit two baskets and sank four free throws to help the United States take the lead for good. Thompson hit a clutch 3-pointer to make it 66-57 with just under three minutes to play.
Fittingly, it was Dawn Staley (search), playing in her third and final Olympics, who put it out of reach, sinking two free throws with 1:37 left for a 70-59 lead. But the 34-year-old point guard wasn't finished.
She drove the lane and scooped in an underhanded layup with 32.1 seconds left and, with U.S. fans waving flags and chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A," she made two free throws to finish it off.
When the final buzzer sounded, Diana Taurasi (search), the youngest player on the team at 22, raced onto the court and lifted Staley, who is the oldest. They quickly were surrounded by their teammates and Staley, who had dribbled out the clock, never let go of the ball.
They huddled and held a U.S. flag over their heads like a tent, savoring the moment.
"This is incredible," Staley said. "I have to share this with some many people — people in the United States and Spain, people who come from humble beginnings, this gold medal is for them."
It also was the third gold for Lisa Leslie (search), who has played with Staley on U.S. teams for 16 years, and Sheryl Swoopes (search). Staley, Leslie and Swoopes led the resurgence in U.S. women's basketball internationally after bronze medal finishes in the 1992 Olympics and 1994 world championships.
It has been all gold ever since. On Saturday, they celebrated together for the final time. Staley, the head coach at Temple, has said she won't play anymore for U.S. teams. Leslie and Swoopes aren't sure of their plans.
Thompson finished with 18 points to lead the United States. Staley finished with 14, Leslie scored 13 and Johnson 12.
The United States had a tough time with Australia's Penny Taylor, who drove aggressively to the basket and scored 16 points. But she was ineffective after getting her third and fourth fouls 20 seconds apart in the final minute of the third quarter.
Lauren Jackson, leading these Olympics with a 24.4 scoring average, had a miserable game. She had just 12 points on 4-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-5 from 3-point range — almost unbelievable for the player who leads the WNBA in 3-point shooting accuracy.
Russia beat Brazil 71-62 for the bronze.