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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Beats Russia for World Title

NANJING, China -- U.S. basketball can hold its head high again, thanks to America's women.

The U.S. women's team, led by Sheryl Swoopes' 18 points, won a narrow 79-74 victory over Russia on Wednesday to claim its second straight women's Basketball World Championship.

Lisa Leslie added 17, including the game-clinching jumper in the final minutes of the fourth quarter as the Russians closed to within one.

Leslie, who won tournament MVP honors, said the victory restored U.S. pride after the U.S. men placed an embarrassing sixth in the World Championships in Indiana earlier this month.

"I think we have redeemed them. But we have all learned a big lesson from the men," Leslie said. "I don't think they came out with their best effort. We just can't get complacent."

The win was the 19th straight victory in championship play for the U.S. women, who last lost a game in 1994.

The gold medal was the United States' seventh, the most in the championship's 49-year history. The former Soviet Union is No. 2 with six golds.

Australia won the bronze Wednesday with a 91-63 win over South Korea. Lauren Jackson led Australia with 31 points.

U.S. coach Van Chancellor stopped short of proclaiming a U.S. women's dynasty. But he said his team had one of the best defenses in championship history, keeping opponents to an average of less than 60 points per game.

Leslie credited the creation of the WNBA, which she said had raised the overall level of U.S. play and created a large pool of new talent.

"We have the WNBA, and we need the WNBA in order for us to stay stable and continue to grow," she said.

The U.S. women dominated the tournament, winning by margins that averaged more than 30 points going into the final. But Russia kept it close, outscoring the Americans 19-14 in the fourth quarter to pull to 71-70 with 3:30 remaining.

Leslie finally put the game out of reach with two free throws and then hit an outside jumper on a pass from Shannon Johnson.

"It was a big jumper for us," Leslie said. "And from there, our momentum changed. Defensively, we were able to jump on them, and I think we held the lead from that point on."

Leslie was benched in the second quarter after picking up her third foul. But Tamika Catchings stepped in, scoring 14 of her 16 points in the first half. The United States ended the half ahead 48-35.

Swoopes scored eight points in the third quarter as the United States kept its lead, but at the start of the fourth quarter, Russia went on a seven-point run. Ilona Korstin hit a 3-pointer that whittled the U.S. lead to 67-63.

"She just really killed us," Leslie said. "She was coming off cuts, she hit shots from the outside and got inside as well."

Yelena Baranova then hit a layup that closed the gap to 71-70, but Leslie starting hitting the shots that mattered, while Catchings and Johnson shut down the Russian counterattack with key steals and rebounds.

"When we just absolutely had to, we found a way to defend them, and we could keep them from scoring in the last minute and a half," Chancellor said.