Two Olympics for Breanna Stewart – and two gold medals brought home by the Cicero-North Syracuse great to add to her already towering list of achievements.
Matching in Tokyo what she did in Rio de Janeiro five years earlier, Stewart helped push the United States women’s basketball team to its seventh consecutive Olympic title and extended its win streak in the Olympics to 55 consecutive games.
The COVID-19 pandemic postponed the games originally scheduled for the summer of 2020. Twelve months later, the Olympics went on, despite the pandemic continuing to affect Japan and no spectators allowed.
Having returned from a torn Achilles to lead the Seattle Storm to the WNBA title in Orlando in 2020, Stewart was again chosen for Team USA, now coached by the University of South Carolina’s Dawn Staley.
In the lead-up to the Olympics, Team USA, accustomed to dominating its competition, lost twice in exhibition games– once to a group of WNBA All-Stars, then to Australia in a 70-67 decision on July 16.
To some degree, this carried over into Tokyo as, in each of the games in group play, the Americans trailed after the first quarter, only to rally.
Against Nigeria, Team USA won 81-72, only the second time in its Olympic win streak (dating back to the 1996 games in Atlanta) that an opponent finished within single digits. Stewart fell just short of a double-double with nine points to go with her 11 rebounds and four assists.
Host Japan was next, and again Team USA trailed after a quarter, 30-28, only to take over in the second period and pull away to win 86-69. Stepping up on offense, Stewart got 15 points and 13 rebounds, adding six assists.
Though assured of going to the elimination round, Team USA still had a game left with France to win Group B – which it did, prevailing 93-82.
Not until A’Ja Wilson hit a series of late 3-pointers did the Americans finally get away from France, Wilson augmenting Stewart’s totals of 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
It just so happened that last Wednesday’s quarterfinal brought a rematch with Australia, the rare instance of a Team USA side seeking payback – and getting it, with Stewart at the forefront.
There was no slow start here as Stewart, in the first half, dominated Australia to the tune of 20 first-half points, by far the most productive stretch of her Olympic career. She hit on seven of eight field goals (including six-for-seven from 3-point range), picked up five rebounds, dished out two assists and contributed a block.
Finishing with 23 points, Stewart’s surge propelled the Americans pass the Aussies 79-55 and set up a final two days later against Serbia, who had knocked off unbeaten China to get this far.
Defense was the story here, Team USA holding Serbia to just over 30 percent from the field while enjoying a comfortable lead most of the way and prevailing 79-59. Stewart, with 12 points and 10 rebounds, was joined in the double-double category by Brittney Griner, who had a team-best 15 points and 12 rebounds.
To earn that seventh consecutive gold medal, the Americans would have to defeat the home team. Japan drilled France 87-71 in the other semifinal, already assuring its best-ever Olympic finish.
It never proved stressful, with Team USA leading from the outset, stretching the margin to double digits by halftime and cruising to a 90-75 victory to keep its quarter-century gold medal streak alive.
Griner again was unstoppable, her 30 points setting a Team USA record for an Olympic final. Stewart made several early blocks to set the defensive tone and would grab 14 rebounds to go with her 14 points, plus five assists and four steals.
It’s Stewart and Griner that will likely lead Team USA in future international competition. The Olympics likely marked the last appearance for veterans like Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who both competed in five Olympics – and won gold every time.
Stewart does not turn 27 until later this month. She won’t be quite 30 when the next Olympics are scheduled to be held in Paris in 2024, where Stewart and the rest of Team USA will go for eight in a row.