|Wednesday, September 25
Updated: October 22, 3:30 PM ET
U.S. relies on Leslie to slip past Russia in final
NANJING, China -- The U.S. women's basketball team wasn't about to make the same mistake as the men.
The United States beat Russia 79-74 on Wednesday for its second straight Women's World Basketball Championship. The title came just weeks after the U.S. men's team finished an embarrassing sixth in the World Championship in Indianapolis.
"I think we have redeemed them. But we have all learned a big lesson from the men,'' tournament MVP Lisa Leslie said. "We just can't get complacent.''
The victory was the 19th straight in championship play for the U.S. women, who have not lost a game since 1994.
Leslie scored 17 points in the final, hitting two crucial free throws and a key jumper late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory after Russia came within one.
Leslie said the win restored U.S. pride after what happened to the men's team.
The gold medal was United States' seventh, the most in the championship's 49-year history. The former Soviet Union is No. 2 with six golds.
Australia won the bronze Wednesday with a 91-63 win over South Korea. Lauren Jackson led Australia with 31 points.
U.S. coach Van Chancellor stopped short of proclaiming a U.S. women's dynasty. But he said his team had one of the best defenses in championship history, holding opponents to an average of less than 60 points per game.
"I think it's the best defensive team the United States has ever had,'' Chancellor said.
The win for the United States was tighter than expected. Russia rallied in the fourth quarter, making the final the closest game of the tournament for the United States. The United States won their previous games by an average of more than 30 points.
Russia trailed 71-70 with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. But Leslie put the game out of reach with her free throws and jumper.
"It was a big jumper for us,'' Leslie said. "And from there, our momentum changed. Defensively, we were able to jump on them, and I think we held the lead from that point on.''
Sheryl Swoopes led the United States with 18 points. Leslie said Russia got as close as it did because she and Swoopes were tired after the 11-day tournament.
"I think fatigue really caught up with us,'' Leslie said. "Yesterday, I played 38 minutes, and I just felt like I was tired from the beginning. Our shots were a lot shorter than usual. Sheryl and I probably missed more shots than we have all tournament.''
Leslie was benched in the second quarter after picking up her third foul. But Tamika Catchings stepped in, scoring 14 of her 16 points in the first half. The United States took 48-35 lead into halftime.
Russia made its run at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Ilona Korstine hit a 3-pointer that cut the U.S. lead to 67-63.
Elena Baranova hit a layup that closed the gap to 71-70. Leslie watched from the bench with four personal fouls.
Chancellor decided he had to put Leslie back in the game.
"Immediately I had one thought,'' Chancellor said. "We were going go down inside to Lisa Leslie and win or lose it there.''
Leslie hit the shots that mattered, while Catchings helped shut down the Russian counterattack with key steals and rebounds. Catchings, who also played with four personal fouls, finished with 11 rebounds.
"I just kept playing,'' Catchings said. "This is the last game. You either put it all on the line or you're going to go home losing, and I put it all on the line.''