Two of the United States' 1996 Olympic gold medalists came up big down the stretch to add world champions to their resumes.
Lisa Leslie and Ruthie Bolton-Holifield, two of the five players who competed on both teams, combined for four big plays in the final minutes Sunday as the United States beat Russia 71-65 to win the Women's World Championship."You dream of being an Olympian, of trying to be the best player you can be, and to be a world champion is a great honor," Leslie said. "There is no comparison except the fact that we have two gold medals now."
Leslie had two turnaround jumpers over the final 2:10 and Bolton-Holifield hit two 3-pointers in the final 1:44 to lead the U.S. team to its closest victory of the tournament over a team it had beaten earlier by 36 points.
It was the United States' sixth world championship in the 13 that have been staged and the first since 1990. In 1994, Brazil shocked the United States in the semifinals.
"It was a tough game. We knew we weren't going to play the same team that we played a week ago and I don't know if everybody was ready for that," said Dawn Staley, who played on all three of the national teams and had 12 assists and one turnover in 36 minutes Sunday.
"I think we played hard for 40 minutes and eventually Russia succumbed to the pressure we were giving them. It felt good. It felt really good after a disappointing '94 World Championship. We're now going for the triple crown in 2000."
The United States will be the favorite for those Olympics in Sydney.
"We are at the top right now, no question about it," U.S. coach Nell Fortner said.
Leslie's three-point play with 2:10 left brought the U.S. team within 61-60.
Bolton-Holifield, who was bothered by 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-Holifield hit another 3 and the U.S. team had the lead for good.
Leslie had 20 points and 12 rebounds, while Bolton-Holifield finished with 11 points and was 3-for-5 from 3-point range.
Natalia Zassoulskaia had 20 points for Russia, 14 over the game's final 10 minutes, while Irina Routkovskaya had 14 and tournament MVP and Utah Starzz standout Elena Baranova 13.
Baranova picked up three fouls in the first 2:11 of the second half and, aside from Zassoulskaia, the Russian offense cooled off.