KAZAN, Russia — Team USA had the tougher road to the final, clipping Australia by only a point. However, once the Americans got there, they certainly knew what to do.
The team, directed by Oklahoma women’s coach Sherri Coale, grabbed the lead early and never gave it up, topping Russia 90-71 to claim the gold medal at the World University Games.
The gold was the American’s third straight in the event.
The Team USA women topped Russia in 2009 in Belgrade, Serbia, and beat Taiwan in 2011 in Shenzhen, China.
Monday, live on ESPNU, and in front of a near-capacity crowd primarily rooting for the home team, the Americans grabbed their first double-digit lead, 13-3, just 6:08 into the game.
Russia made it a four-point game in the second quarter, but the Americans came back to lead 41-27 at the half.
Only once after the half was the Russian deficit whittled to less than 10 points, when Team USA led 50-42 halfway through the third frame.
Nonetheless, Team USA was back on top by 21 points when the fourth quarter began and never let its lead drop below 15 points.
“I’m so proud of them,” Coale said of her players. “This is such a difficult thing.
“You can say, ‘Look how good these players are,’ and they are, they are very, very talented. But fitting all that together in a short amount of time against these teams that have years of experience together is a real challenge.”
Connecticut’s Bria Hartley scored 17 points to lead four Americans in double figures.
“I think our success speaks to the selflessness of these guys on this team who were willing to play roles,” Coale said, “whatever those roles might be — different roles on different nights.”
Sooner shooting guard Aaryn Ellenberg, who led the Americans with 19 points against Brazil earlier in the tournament, finished with just two points in the gold medal game. She averaged 9.2 per game over the course of the event.
“It’s definitely an honor to be here in the first place,” Ellenberg said. “It’s been great to represent the USA and actually win gold.”
The gold medal also represented ultimate success for Coale in her first head coaching opportunity on behalf of USA Basketball.
She had previously been an assistant coach with Team USA’s bronze-medal winning 2001 Junior World Championship team.
The World University Games represents a step forward from that. A multi-sport Olympic-style event, it’s hosted every two years and is open to male and female athletes between the ages of 17 and 24 who have been college or university students in the previous calendar year.
In 17 appearances at the games, Team USA now has claimed gold nine times, compiling a 101-15 record at the event.