Breanna Stewart has played in eight championship tournaments for USA Basketball since debuting in 2009. She owns six gold medals.
Her two misses have come in the Pan American Games. And when she returns to the University of Connecticut for her senior year this fall, she'll have a daily reminder to why she had to settle for silver this summer.
UConn sophomore guard Kia Nurse scored 33 points Monday night as Team Canada won its first Pan Am gold medal by defeating the United States 81-73 before a partisan Canadian sellout crowd of 3,300 in Toronto.
Nurse, whose career high a season ago at UConn was 22 against Creighton, was 10-for-17 from the floor (2-for-3 from 3-point land) and 11-for-12 from the foul line in 29 minutes. The Hamilton, Ontario, native also had six rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
She converted a pair of three-point plays in the fourth quarter as Team USA tried to rally from an 18-point deficit.
"Obviously, Kia Nurse played really well," Stewart said. "She just came out and was doing everything, whether it was threes, driving to the basket and getting and-ones, that kind of stuff. We had them for a second, and then they let the crowd and momentum get behind them and never really looked back."
Stewart led the Americans with a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds, but was just 5-for-12 from the floor as Canada was physical with the Huskies' standout. Fellow senior All-American Moriah Jefferson had 12 of her 14 points in the first half and was 5-for-13 shooting. She turned her left ankle in the first half when she stepped on the foot of Canada's Natalie Achonwa. Then with 4:30 left, she butted heads with Nurse and ended up watching the final minutes with an ice pack on the back of her head.
Nurse joins Mel Thomas and Charde Houston as the only UConn players to win Pan Am gold. The Huskies' Class of 2008 did so with Team USA in 2007.
Stewart was the first high school player in 36 years to represent Team USA in the Pan Am Games in 2011 and averaged a double-double as the Americans finished seventh.
The North Syracuse, New York, native helped her team get off to a good start Monday and the USA (4-1) led 23-13 after one quarter. But Nurse and Canada (5-0) -- with much of the same team that finished fifth at the 2014 FIBA world championships -- came back and forged a 36-all tie at halftime.
A Nurse basket capped Canada's 7-0 start to the third quarter. Stewart answered with a 3-pointer however Achonwa, playing in her first tournament for Canada since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee almost 16 months ago while playing for Notre Dame against Baylor in the NCAA tournament Elite Eight, netted seven straight points for a double-figure lead. Miranda Ayim's basket with 1:20 left gave the hosts their biggest lead at 62-44.
But Team USA scored the last seven points of the third quarter and a Jefferson steal and layup made it 62-57 with 6:36 to go. But Nurse reposnded with a three-point play to push the lead back to eight. A Stewart hoop brought Team USA to within 67-61 with 5:12 to go, but again Nurse responded with a strong drive while she was fouled by Jefferson for a three-point play and a nine-point advantage.
"When we got within five, I thought we're going win this thing," Team USA coach Lisa Bluder of Iowa said. "I really did. Then they got two quick ones after that. But we had too many turnovers tonight again. I feel like if we had more bodies, I think we would have been in better shape."
The Americans got it back to five with 17.7 seconds left, but an Achonwa free throw, and two free throws by Nurse with 7.0 seconds to go -- as the crowd roared "M-V-P, M-V-P" -- put it away.
Nurse had totaled had 35 points over 100 minutes in Canada's first four games.
"She was on fire," Bluder said. "I think she, and all the Canadians, were excited about playing on their home court. She had a lot of pride on the line. Being a UConn kid and having the two UConn players on our team, Bre and Mo. I thought Kia Nurse just played really, really well tonight, just strong, aggressive. And with the depth that they have and as many players as they play, it got her a little bit more rest during the week than we were able to give our players."
Up next for Team Canada is an Olympic qualifying tournament in Edmonton starting Aug. 9. Canada has to win the tourney title to earn an automatic berth to the 2016 Games. Team USA clinched a spot in Rio de Janeiro by winning the gold medal at the 2014 FIBA world championships.
Nurse averaged 13.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists for Canada. For Team USA, Stewart averaged 18.6 points and 9.0 rebounds, while Jefferson averaged 12.2 points and 3.8 assists.
Cuba defeated Brazil 66-62 Monday for the bronze medal.
(Quotes courtesy of USA Basketball)