Behind UConn's Stefanie Dolson, Team USA wins gold medal in 3x3 basketball Olympic debut

Former UConn All-American Stefanie Dolson is an Olympic gold-medalist.

With a game-leading seven points and nine rebounds, Dolson led Team USA, 18-15, over the Russian Olympic Committee Wednesday morning in the first-ever 3x3 women’s basketball Olympic gold-medal game.

“If you would have asked or said to me that I was going to be here and winning a gold about a year ago, I would not have believed it,” Dolson said following the game. “With COVID, and quarantine, and then the bubble, I mean there has been so many ups and downs in the last year. I didn’t know I could make it here and I didn’t know if we would even get this opportunity. So, for us to have the opportunity and then to succeed and win the gold is just outstanding. [I’m] just really happy.”

The second-seeded ROC earned silver with the loss, while China won the bronze after defeating France, 16-14, earlier in the morning.

“Basketball runs pretty deep in the U.S., so for us to come here and kinda prove ourselves and show everyone that we’re at just the same level, it’s really special for us,” Dolson said. “We don’t know what’s down the road, but we hope that we’ve started some type of dynasty with 3-on-3.

“This is just the beginning and cheers to that,” Dolson said on the post-game zoom while raising a glass of champagne.

Team USA led by as many as five points in the opening minutes as ROC found itself in a near-four-minute scoring drought. The ROC also fell into foul trouble early, giving the U.S. plenty of chances at the line. It was Dolson’s free throw just under the four-minute mark that gave Team USA its biggest lead at 12-5.

ROC (6-3) found brief momentum and used a 4-0 run to get within three of the U.S. but couldn’t sustain itself as it fell into more foul trouble, ultimately losing the game and the gold medal to Team USA.

The U.S. earned eight of its final 18 points from 11 trips to the foul line, while the ROC never once shot a free throw. Team USA also out-rebounded ROC, 21-11, including 13 defensive boards.

Team USA (8-1) was led by Dolson with a game-high seven points and nine rebounds, followed by Kelsey Plum with five points and Allisha Gray with six rebounds.

Dolson finished with an average of 5.7 points per game and a Team USA-leading 41 rebounds in nine games in Tokyo.

The success on the stat sheet didn’t stop there for the U.S.

Plum finished as the top scorer across all countries with 6.1 ppg, while Gray was the top blocker averaging 1.0 blocks per game. Team USA, coached by Duke’s Kara Lawson, led all countries in points per game (19.1), defensive rebounds per game (12.2) and 1-point shooting percentage (62.0%).

Dolson becomes UConn women’s basketball’s 10th player to win an Olympic gold medal joining the likes of Rebecca Lobo, Kara Wolters, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles, Asjha Jones, Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart. As a player, she helped the Huskies win the 2013 and 2014 National Championships.

“Winning a national championship is, was amazing, all the other more individual accomplishments great, but to win this one for my country, for the U.S., is something that I’ve dreamed of and wanted for a long time,” Dolson said. “To finally accomplish it is really special.”

Fellow former UConn standout Katie Lou Samuelson was originally on Team USA’s roster for the Olympic tournament before contracting COVID-19 and withdrawing days before the team’s flight to Japan.

Samuelson was replaced by Las Vegas Aces’ Jackie Young, who finished the tournament with 16 points and 24 rebounds. Young, who got the call to join the team while on vacation in Florida, had yet to practice with the 3x3 team before joining them in the Olympics.

“The year that we’ve had, it’s kinda going on the fly all the time. You never know what’s going to be thrown at you with the games being moved, then the qualifying tournament being moved, missing some days in the WNBA, we’ve had to deal with a lot, and we’ve all rolled with the punches,” Dolson said. “For Jackie to come in, I give all the props to her to be honest with you. I don’t even think we did much with that. She just came in ready.”

Team USA earned the No. 1 overall seed and its spot in this week’s semifinals after finishing pool play with 5-1 record. Through four days of doubleheaders, the U.S. was the only team to finish unbeaten after its first five games, including beating ROC, 20-16, on Sunday.

The team’s only loss came Tuesday night when Japan defeated the U.S., 20-18, in the final pool-play game.

The sport is one of five new additions to the Olympics this summer, along with skateboarding, surfing, karate and sport climbing.

maggie.vanoni@hearstmediact.com