U.S. women’s basketball eyes seventh straight Olympic gold

Winners of six consecutive gold medals, the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team has achieved a level of consistent dominance rarely seen in sports. But that won’t make their quest for gold at the Tokyo Games any easier.

Unlike other countries’ programs, the U.S. didn’t get weeks or months to play together ahead of the Games, with the 12-player roster first convening last week in Las Vegas for an abbreviated training camp. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage Tokyo, making for an Olympics unlike any even the likes of national team mainstays Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi have ever experienced. And this particular U.S. Olympic team features a substantial number of newcomers (six) and is shifting its style of play from the last few cycles.

None of that can shake USA Basketball, though. The gold-medal standard set in 1996 and holding steadfast ever since remains the same.

With a first-place finish in Tokyo, Team USA can make history by joining U.S. men’s basketball as the only programs to win seven straight gold medals in traditional team sports. Its journey begins Tuesday at 12:40 a.m. ET with its opening game against Nigeria in pool play.

The U.S., No. 1 in the FIBA world rankings, may be overwhelming favorites on paper, but that presumption faltered some last week when Team USA went 1-2 in exhibition games. Most eyebrow-raising was their 70-67 defeat at the hands of No. 2 Australia, which was without WNBA All-Star center Liz Cambage.