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Bruno's Olympic Trilogy---Part One: Road to the Gold
DePaul women's basketball coach Doug Bruno was an assistant coach on the gold-medal winning USA Basketball women's team.

DePaul women's basketball coach Doug Bruno was an assistant coach on the gold-medal winning USA Basketball women's team.

Aug. 21, 2012

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(First of a three-part series chronicling DePaul women’s basketball coach Doug Bruno and his experience as an assistant coach on the USA Basketball Women’s National Team that won the gold medal at the London Olympics)

Part 2: Tuesday, Aug. 28---Memorable Moments Off the Court
Part 3: Tuesday, Sept. 4---Personal Olympic Reflections

CHICAGO – Doug Bruno felt like he went into the London Olympics with the highest possible mandate from USA Basketball.

You can never lose.

That doesn’t exactly leave much margin for error.

“You are rarely undefeated in college basketball, and a loss or two is part of the process of getting better,” Bruno said. “When you’re coaching the USA on the world stage, you must always win. You can never lose.”

Bruno arrived in the land of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace last month having done exactly that. He was the head coach on the USA women’s national team that won the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in 2006.

A year later, he coached the USA U19 national team to the gold medal at the 2007 FIBA World Championship. In 2010, he was an assistant coach on the USA women’s national team that won gold at the FIBA World Championship under head coach Geno Auriemma of Connecticut.

Bruno and Team USA didn’t return to their London accomodations at the Westbury Hotel until 3 a.m. following the opening ceremony.

In their Olympic opener against Croatia, the Americans trailed 53-49 early in the fourth quarter when a 16-0 run led to an 81-56 victory.

“It was still about putting a team together,” Bruno said as ex-Naperville Central and Tennessee star Candace Parker had 11 points and 13 rebounds. “We only had a couple of weeks together, and it was very early in the process of forming a team.

“We had such little time to practice. We had to use our games as preparation.”

The Americans were a quick study. They had little trouble polishing off Angola 90-38 in game two of pool play on July 30th at the Olympic Park Basketball Arena.

Once again Parker led the way with 14 points and 12 rebounds as the U.S. team went on a 19-6 run in the second quarter.

“We gave up too much dribble penetration against Croatia and allowed too many three-point shots,” Bruno said. “We did a lot better in those areas.”

With LeBron James and his USA men’s basketball teammates in the crowd, the women’s team cruised past Turkey 89-58 on Aug. 1. This was the same opponent who had given the Americans problems in a July 22 exhibition game at Istanbul.

Angel McCoughtry scored 18 points off the bench and sparked a 13-2 run in the third quarter while Tina Charles added 14 points.

“Turkey played us really tough in Istanbul,” Bruno said. “Turkey was a good three-point shooting team, but this was our best performance to date.

“Angel played really well coming off the bench, and there was no question going into the Olympics that we would use 10-to-12 players against everyone else’s six to eight.”

Auriemma was not pleased with his team’s rebounding against Turkey, and that was a top priority going into the Aug. 3rd game against the Czech Republic.

His players responded with a team-record 62 rebounds---including 27 offensive boards that translated into 24 points. Team USA had six consecutive rebounds on one possession. Diana Taurasi scored 18 points while Charles had 16 points and 15 rebounds.

Down 30-26, the U.S. went on a 22-6 run in the second quarter. Leading by 10 at halftime, Taurasi & Co. opened the third quarter with a 20-3 run.

The Americans finished up pool play with a flourish, clobbering China 114-66 on Aug. 5th. The point total tied a USA Olympic record as Taurasi led the way with 22 points. China was competitive until a 29-6 run in the second quarter sparked by the Americans’ defensive pressure.

“We couldn’t stop them in the first quarter, but we turned up the defensive full-court pressure and they couldn’t handle it,” Bruno said. “The process of getting better was definitely evident.

“Coming into the Olympics, we were at the top and Angola was at the bottom. Australia was No. 2 and numbers three through 11 were all very close.”

By the time Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and James stopped by in the third quarter, Team USA had the quarterfinal game against Canada well in hand. The Americans led 42-21 at halftime and wound up forcing 26 turnovers in the 91-48 victory.

“This was the first game we got off to a good start,” Bruno said. “Canada ran the Princeton offense and we popped them. We got in the passing lanes and it was over fast. Our defense forced Canada into three 24-second shot clock violations in the first seven minutes.”

What followed was the game everyone had been waiting for---USA vs. Australia. Bruno and Auriemma knew the Aug. 9 semifinal would be their greatest challenge.

It lived up to all the hype.

Australia’s 6-foot, 8-inch Liz Cambage dominated in the low post with 19 points in the first half as the U.S. fell behind 47-43 at halftime. The Americans’ 39-game Olympic winning streak remained in jeopardy as Taurasi sat on the bench with four fouls and her team trailed 56-55 in the third quarter.

That’s when Auriemma turned to a group led by Charles, Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus who ignited a game-changing 16-6 run. Australia shot just 4-of-18 in the third quarter and could not come within nine in the fourth quarter of an 86-73 victory.

“Australia did a great job of posting us up and getting the ball inside in the first half,” Bruno said. “We went to a man-to-man defense in the second half and cranked up the defensive pressure. Tina Charles and Asjha Jones did a nice job on Cambage in the second half, holding her scoreless.”

Parker took all the suspense out of the gold medal game, scoring eight points in a row to ignite a 13-2 second-quarter run as Team USA cruised to an 86-50 triumph over France on Aug. 11. The USA defense held France to one basket over the final seven minutes, 25 seconds of the first half.

It was the fifth consecutive gold medal for the USA, which has won 41 straight Olympic games by an average of nearly 30 points a game.

“This group was ultra-competitive, and all of them have hearts of a champion,” Bruno said. “I knew once we went on that second-quarter run that we were on our way. They had that junkyard dog mentality on defense.

“There was a lot of pressure on us. You have the best players in the world, but they haven’t been together for long. It’s a relief when you win the gold medal. If anyone else wins, it’s another ‘Miracle On Ice.’

“Winning the gold medal is an overwhelming feeling. So many emotions come pouring out of you in a simultaneous rush. It’s a feeling of relief for the coaches, and a feeling of absolute joy as I watched our players accept their gold medals.”

(NEXT: Aug. 28---Memorable Moments Off the Court)