Ruthie Bolton hit two 3-pointers in the final 1:44 and Lisa Leslie finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds Sunday as the United States rallied to beat Russia 71-65 and win the 13th Women's World Championship.
It was the first world title for the Americans since 1990, and their sixth overall. Coupled with the 1996 Olympic gold, the United States laid claim to being the dominant team in the world."We are at the top right now, no question about it," American coach Nell Fortner said.
Getting there was no easy task, however, as the Russians got 20 points from Natalia Zassoulskaia, 14 from Irina Routkovskaya and 13 from championship MVP Elena Baranova to keep the issue in doubt until the final seconds.
The Americans, who trailed by as many as 12 points, didn't lead in the game until 7:59 remained and had to withstand a 14-point performance by Zassoulskaia in the final 10 minutes to claim the gold.
Leslie hit a pressure-packed turnaround in the lane with 2:10 to go - which also drew Baranova's fifth foul - cutting the margin to 61-60. Then it was Bolton's turn.
Bolton, who has battled a sore knee throughout the tournament, buried a 3-pointer with 1:44 left to give the Americans a 63-61 lead. After Svetlana Anitpova scored on a drive to tie the game, Bolton hit another trey to put the U.S. up for good.
"It was a game that came down to two shots," Fortner said. "And Lisa's shots when we were isolating on the block were big, too."
Leslie's second turnaround put the Americans up by three, and Dawn Staley, who finished with 12 assists and just one turnover in 36 minutes, hit three of four free throws in the final 10 seconds to wrap up the scoring.
Fortner credited the depth of her team for the comeback. Evgueny Gomelsky, the Russian coach, agreed.
"We played very nice defense in the first half," he said, "but in the second half we might have gotten a little tired."
In the first half, the Russians controlled the game. They pulled out to a 37-25 lead with 2:51 left before intermission as the Americans went 9:04 without a basket.
The vaunted U.S. inside game was missing as Leslie, Natalie Williams and Chamique Holdsclaw combined to score just seven points in the opening half on dismal 1-of-15 shooting. DeLisha Milton picked up some of the slack with seven points - finishing with 13 - but that was about the extent of the American offense.
The second half was a different story.
"We really tried to get the ball inside and draw some fouls," said Bolton, and both tactics succeeded. Baranova picked up three fouls in the first 2:11 and, aside from Zassoulskaia, the Russian offense cooled off.
The Americans eventually tied the game at 41 on a Bolton layup and took the lead for the first time on a pretty Milton spin move in the lane with 7:59 left. After that, the game seesawed back and forth until Bolton, Leslie and Staley finished off the victory.
In the third-place game, Carla Porter's 26 points and seven rebounds helped Australia bounce back from a 14-point first-half deficit and beat Brazil 72-67.