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U.S. Women's Basketball Team Dominates Olympic Competition


I mean, let's just say it. The U.S. women's basketball team is totally dominating at the Olympics. The Americans haven't lost at the Olympics since 1992, a remarkable winning streak of 47 games and five straight gold medals. The team puts it all on the line tonight in the semifinals against France. NPR's Russell Lewis caught up with the team to find out about their secret to success.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: In the quarterfinal game, the U.S. put on a basketball clinic against Japan.


LEWIS: Crisper passes, better shots, stronger defense.

So at the start of the fourth quarter, the U.S. is up 81-59 over Japan. And this is what the U.S. has been doing the entire time here at the Rio Olympics - just rolling over the competition.

Japan scored just five points in the final quarter. And the U.S. won by 46. After the game, the Japanese players asked to have their pictures taken with the U.S. team. Elena Delle Donne is playing at her first Olympics - one of three rookies for the United States.

ELENA DELLE DONNE: The biggest thing is just the depth and any player being able to step up any night. I think, you know, there's a lot of great teams here. But I don't think there's any teams that have 12 incredible players like we do. And the depth can really wear people out.

LEWIS: Delle Donne is joined by three-time Olympic gold medalists Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi. Some of their other teammates have won two gold medals, others one. All play in the WNBA. Maya Moore says the reason the U.S. has continued to win for decades is simple.

MAYA MOORE: The captains of the teams over the years established a culture that puts the team first, that competes hard, that carries themselves with class - you know, having the discipline and kind of that pride to say, hey, I'm going to represent well. And I want to do that every time I get a chance.

LEWIS: The USA head coach is Geno Auriemma, who also coaches the wildly successful women's basketball team at the University of Connecticut. He says one reason the U.S. does well is they play in college for four years. Some go overseas and get accustomed to the international style of basketball. And others star in the WNBA. Still, he says he feels the pressure.

GENO AURIEMMA: It's not about winning or losing until you lose. And we live with that every day because there's this culture of - this is what we do. This is the U.S. This is what we do.

LEWIS: The success of the U.S. women's basketball team in the Olympics, for the most part, goes widely unnoticed. Star guard Diana Taurasi says it doesn't really bother her that they don't get more attention.

DIANA TAURASI: You know, if we play for that - I mean, it's not up to us.

LEWIS: The United States women have medaled in all nine of the Olympics they've competed in. They're hoping their next medal is another gold one. Russell Lewis, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.
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