KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic – Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, and Tamika Catchings embraced in a long hug. The only blemish on their stellar U.S. basketball career was now gone.
The United States won the women's world championship Sunday, getting 18 points from Angel McCoughtry in an 89-69 win over the Czech Republic.
Taurasi added 16 and Bird had 11 points for the Americans, who now have won the world championship eight times.
It was one sweet win for Bird, Taurasi and Catchings, who were on the U.S. team that finished a disappointing third in the 2006 worlds.
The three were determined not to let that happen again.
"It was a perfect ending and a perfect way for us to go out," Catchings said.
To win the gold, in a similar situation to the men's team that won in Turkey, the U.S. had to get past the host nation in the final.
The Czechs were spurred on by a sold-out crowd of 6,024, which included President Vaclav Klaus, while trying to pull off one of the biggest upsets in the sport's history.
"The fans were into it and it couldn't have been better the way they cheered on their team. It wasn't easy to beat them tonight," Catchings said.
This was the first time that the Czechs had advanced to the medal round since dissolving from Slovakia in 1993. The former Czechoslovakia won two silver medals and four bronzes from 1953-1975.
The host nation gave their fans a lot to cheer about early on. The whistling and horns were so loud when U.S. players were introduced it was hard to make out the names. There were more whistles every time the Americans had the ball in the early going. When Katerina Elhotova hit a 3-pointer to cut the U.S. lead to 10-9, the noise was almost deafening.
Every time the U.S. tried to pull away in the first half the Czechs had an answer. The Americans built a 40-28 advantage with 2:09 left but the Czechs scored the final seven points to come within five at the break.
It was the closest any team had been to the U.S. at the half during the entire tournament.
A layup by Tereza Peckova cut the Czech deficit to 40-37, but that was as close as it would get.
"We couldn't stop them in the first half and they couldn't stop us," U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. "We knew we'd make a run eventually."
Taurasi hit a 3-pointer and Bird a layup to make it an eight-point game. A jumper by Petra Kulichova cut it back to six before Taurasi's 3-pointer ignited a 10-0 run. Back-to-back steals by Bird and Catchings led to lay-ins and forced the Czechs to call timeout trailing 55-39.
The U.S. led by 22 at the end of the third quarter and the Czechs could only get within 17 in the fourth quarter.
Kulichova scored 14 points and tournament MVP Hana Horakova added 12 for the Czechs, who were running on fumes after beating defending champion Australia in the quarterfinals and topping Belarus in overtime to reach the gold-medal game.
Leading scorer Eva Viteckova, who came in averaging 17.6 points, was held to seven.
The U.S. has only lost once when it reached the gold-medal game, back in 1983 when it fell to the Soviet Union. With Sunday's victory, Swin Cash and Taurasi became the fifth and sixth players to win an NCAA, WNBA, Olympic, and world championship. They joined Bird, Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, and Kara Wolters.
Candice Dupree finished the tournament shooting an American-record 75 percent from the field, breaking Dawn Staley's mark of 69 percent set in 1994.