LONDON -- With former Tennessee standout Candace Parker providing a huge spark, the USA women overcame a slow start Saturday at North Greenwich Arena to overpower France, 86-50, and win their fifth-straight Olympic gold medal.
With the triumph, the American women became the first team in any Olympic sport to seize five straight golds.
Parker, who came off the bench to help the Americans rally from a first-quarter deficit, finished with a double-double for points and rebounds. She earned game honors for each, tallying 21 points and 11 boards, as Team USA won its seventh overall gold medal and upped its 20-year-old Olympic winning streak to 41 games.
“We just wanted to come out with a lot of energy,” Parker told reporters. “We knew the French team is a great team. They didn’t get to the gold medal match without reason. We knew we couldn’t play scared.”
At least one Lady Vol has been part of each one of the seven American gold-medal efforts. Tamika Catchings, who tallied four points, five rebounds, two steals and two assists in 16 minutes on Saturday, became the first of UT’s female Olympians to win three gold medals. Parker, who added two assists and a block in addition to her double-double, joined Catchings (2004, 2008, 2012) and Nikki McCray (1996, 2000) as the only UT players to claim gold at least twice. Parker also played on the 2008 USA squad.
The Americans trailed, 13-11, with 3:56 remaining in the first quarter before going on a 9-2 run to close the period with a 20-15 advantage. Parker entered the contest and scored four points during that spree for the Americans, changing the course of the game not only with her point production but also with her rebounding and overall hustle.
Parker made her presence felt even more during the second frame, as the Red, White and Blue extended the lead to 37-25 at the half. The 6-foot-4 post tossed in 11 points during the quarter and finished the first 20 minutes with 15 to go along with nine rebounds.
Team USA stifled any hopes the French had for a comeback in the third period, outscoring their opponents, 26-12, and expanding the lead to 63-37 entering the fourth frame. The quest for gold had come to an end for France, but competing in the Olympics for only the second time, that squad found satisfying consolation in claiming the silver and the country’s first-ever women’s medal in the sport.
After shooting only 31 percent (7-19) in the first frame and allowing France to hit at a 38-percent clip (5-13), USA found its range and finished the contest at 48 percent (31-64). The French hit only 11 more buckets the rest of the way and wound up at 30 percent (16-53). Parker’s insertion into the contest also ratcheted up her squad’s intensity. Playing with much more energy the rest of the way, the Americans made life difficult on the offensive end for France, resulting in fewer easy shots and 21 turnovers by the Olympic runners-up.