Breanna Stewart has been a fan of Sue Bird since she first watched the fellow UConn alum play on TV during the Olympics eight years ago. Now, this weekend, Stewart might literally be tasked with helping deliver a fourth gold medal to her Storm teammate.
After sitting out Thursday’s semifinal win over France with a knee sprain, Bird remains day-to-day heading into the gold-medal game. She practiced on Friday, and the United States hopes Bird will be healthy enough to play when it battles Spain on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. PT.
“I don’t think you get to where any of us are without being smart. I’m not going to be stupid about this,” Bird told USAB.com. “This is your body. You have to listen to it. You don’t want to put yourself in danger, but if I can play, I’m definitely playing.”
Diana Taurasi has spent time at point guard in recent years with her club teams, and she played the role in Bird’s absence for much of Thursday’s game.
“You’re not going to be able to take someone like [Bird] out of the lineup and have it just continue to flow smoothly like it did the first six games,” coach Geno Auriemma said after the 86-67 win over France, the USA’s closest game of the Olympics. “We struggled a little bit with it. Our ball movement wasn’t nearly as good. There was a different kind of rhythm, a different kind of flow to our offense.”
Along with Taurasi and Tamika Catchings, Bird can tie Teresa Edwards and Lisa Leslie’s record by winning her fourth Olympic gold medal. Including FIBA World Championships, Bird would have more gold medals than any other American player (seven) if the USA wins on Saturday.
For Stewart, this is just the first of potentially as many Olympics as Bird. But Saturday’s gold-medal game is also the culmination of countless summers spent with USA Basketball.
Stewart has represented the USA every year since age 14, when her team won gold at the FIBA Americas U-16 Championship in Mexico. It was her senior year of high school when Stewart decided that USA Basketball was something she really wanted to focus on. Heading into her first Olympic final, she has already won half a dozen gold medals on the international stage.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Stewart said after the semifinal. “For me, having played for gold medals before at different levels, you can’t even compare it to being here at the Olympics. I think it’s one of the best accolades or honors you can get in a sport. I’m excited to be able to be a part of it.”
In order to stand on the podium as champions, the Americans will have to get past a familiar foe. Spain is the team they beat in the final at the 2014 FIBA World Championships. Stewart and Bird were both on that USA squad, and they scored nine points apiece last week in a 103-63 win over Spain during the preliminary round.
Spain boasts a pair of current WNBA players – San Antonio’s Astou Ndour and Phoenix’s Marta Xargay – and others with WNBA ties. Anna Cruz won the title with Minnesota last year, while Connecticut owns the rights to Alba Torrens, Spain’s leading scorer. Torrens had a game-high 20 points against the USA last week.
Spain would have been even more formidable with Sancho Lyttle, but she suffered a broken foot in July. Lyttle, who plays for Atlanta, led Spain in scoring at the 2014 World Championships.
It will be a difficult task for Spain, which is playing in its first gold-medal game.