BEIJING Among the many things Lisa Leslie packed in her suitcase for her fourth trip to the Olympics were her three gold medals. The captain of the U.S. women's basketball team figured the medals would inspire her as she faced the end of her international career, and she vowed to add to the collection Saturday night and parade around the Wukesong Basketball Arena with four gold medals dangling from her neck.
She kept her promise.
Australia had the size and moxie to give the United States a game, but Leslie and her teammates were just too good. They shut down the Opals 92-65 and won a fourth consecutive gold medal. They are 33-0 at the Olympics dating to the 1992 bronze medal game, and 50-3 overall. It was the third time in a row they beat the Aussies in the final.
The U.S. dominated the entire tournament, outscoring its eight opponents by an average of 38.8 points. Australia is the reigning world champion and had lost by just four to the U.S. in an Olympic warm-up tournament in Shanghai, so the Opals came in truly believing they could topple the Americans. But when it counted most, Australia cracked and the U.S. elevated its game.
"They put the clampers on us, held us down, and we lost our confidence," Australia coach Jan Stirling said. "We just weren't able to handle the heat they put us under."
Australia was 19 of 76 (25 percent), and allowed the U.S. to shoot 59 percent and dominate in the paint. Four U.S. players scored in double figures Kara Lawson (15 points), Leslie (14), Candace Parker (14), and Sylvia Fowles (14).
"We put it all on the floor every game, and left nothing for anyone else," Leslie said. "We played the best the whole tournament and are deserving of the gold medal."
"We were on a mission," added guard Diana Taurasi.
The game marked the end of the Leslie era. The 36-year-old U.S. center became the first player in Olympic basketball history to win four consecutive gold medals. She is retiring after giving 19 years of her life to the national team because she wants to pursue other projects and spend more time with her 1-year-old daughter, Lauren.
When she left the game with just over six minutes remaining and 14 points on the scoreboard, she got a standing ovation from the U.S. men's basketball team, which plays for its gold medal Sunday.
Leslie was in tears afterward as she hugged her teammates.
"I'm so overwhelmed right now," Leslie said. "I put on this uniform since I was in 11th grade and had wonderful opportunity to represent our country on (the) junior national team, and then world championships, and four Olympics. I didn't win these four medals alone. I had so many players who had such an impact on me, and now that I've become the oldest player, I try to do the exact thing with Sylvia (Fowles) and Candace (Parker). The fact I won four golds shows the level of dominance I've been able to be participate in with so many great players."
Delisha Milton-Jones was among the teammates who heaped praise on Leslie after the game.
"Lisa is one person that a lot of us, as veterans or newcomers, we can all emulate her lifestyle and her game," Milton-Jones said. "She is a woman first, a mother second, a basketball player third. When you can have all those entities tied into one, and still be considered the best, hands down to you. She is successful on and off the court, a great mother and a great player. How much sweeter can it get for her?"
Fowles, the Miami native who is Leslie's heir apparent, said she was honored to play alongside her idol. She and Leslie forged a special mentor-pupil relationship. Every time Fowles replaced the captain in a game, Leslie patted Fowles on the back and said: "DJ, keep the party rolling."
And Fowles assured Leslie the party will go on.
"I always admired Lisa," Fowles said. "I always liked her because she was tall and had good moves. When I first played with her I thought, 'Wow, that's Lisa Leslie.' I was like a fan. Like, 'Can I take a picture and get an autograph?' I can't do that anymore. She's my teammate. It's a very humbling experience. Now she has passed the torch to me, and I have no choice but to run with it, keep things going and make her proud of me."