By Joe Rexrode
LONDON -- Little Lailaa Williams kept tugging and pushing and imploring her mother to pay attention to her. Finally, Candace Parker promised her 3-year-old daughter some candy if she'd be quiet for a few minutes and let mommy speak with the reporters.
"Candy at 11 o'clock," Parker said while picking Lailaa up. "It's gonna be a great night."
It already had been, for Parker and a team that had been waiting for her to dominate like this.
The former Tennessee great had clinched her best game of the tournament by halftime and finished with game highs of 21 points and 11 rebounds in an 86-50 rout of France in the gold medal game at North Greenwich Arena.
"Awesome," Tamika Catchings said of her fellow Vols star.
"She's one of those players," teammate Diana Taurasi said, "that can really do anything on the court."
But she hadn't always been doing it. On Saturday, she had 15 points at the break to go with nine rebounds. Her scoring high before that was 14 against Angola in pool play.
She was averaging 8.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in the first seven games, numbers that reflect in part the depth of this team.
Still, there have been stretches of less-than-dominant play from a player with the talent to do as she pleases.
U.S. coach Geno Auriemma seemed to be throwing some motivation her way when he said before the tournament of Parker: "I tell her every day, 'You should be the best player in the world, maybe ever to play professional basketball.'"
After the way she played Saturday, Auriemma said the same thing -- that she should be this good all the time.
"I thought it was a great opportunity for her to really make a statement in these Olympics. And she's kind of like ... sometimes," Auriemma said. "She had the ability to play like this every single night. Why she didn't, I don't know.
"I'm sure glad she did tonight. But maybe Candace doesn't know how good she is."
Parker said the ability to maintain a mental edge is "my biggest hangup."
It was not an issue against France. Auriemma's press got Parker playing with high energy as soon as she came off the bench in the first quarter.
She got inside for a basket, then teamed with former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry for a steal that led to a McCoughtry layup. That pushed the Americans to a 20-15 lead.
In the second quarter. Parker halted a France surge with a putback to make it 24-19, then did the same thing for a 30-23 lead.
Then Parker made a play with flair that only she can produce. She ripped down a defensive board, took off with the ball, weaved through defenders and finished with a soaring finger roll.
The crowd of 13,295 said "Ooooooh!" The scoreboard said 34-23 Americans. The French called timeout.
The game was one-sided from there, so Parker had some time to reflect on her second gold medal -- part of five straight for USA Basketball -- and all the challenges she faced to get here.
She has had knee and shoulder injuries and she is trying to juxtapose parenthood with playing in the WNBA and in Russia. She and husband Shelden Williams, an NBA player, juggle travel, basketball and Lailaa all year, every year.
"It's all worth it," Parker said. "I'd be lying to you if I told you it was easy. We played overseas, we came back, we had the training camp with USA Basketball. Went right into the WNBA season, took a break and now we're going right back into the WNBA season and then back overseas.
"So it is a grind but it's all worth it. And it's only for a short period of time. You look up and you're 26 years old. And who knows where I'll be in four years and what the future holds for me. But I'm gonna enjoy the process for sure."
Joe Rexrode also writes for the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal.