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Newz Forum: OLYMPICS: U.S. women get easy tuneup against New Zealand

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posted on Aug, 14 2004 @ 11:30 AM
ATHENS, Greece (AP) - The U.S. women's basketball team got just what it wanted from New Zealand in its Athens opener: a nice, easy tuneup for the rest of the Summer Games.

With five players scoring in double figures, the Americans turned it on after a slow start and rolled past New Zealand 99-47 on Saturday.

Favored to win its third straight gold medal, the United States showed why, extending its Olympic winning streak to 18. New Zealand appeared well prepared but was no match for the Americans' athleticism, speed on the fast break, and quick hands and feet on defense that resulted in 18 steals and six blocks.

"Nobody can say we weren't prepared. Nobody can say we quit," New Zealand coach Tom Maher said. "It was just monumental."

Swin Cash, playing her first game in the Olympics, led with 19 points. Sheryl Swoopes scored 14, Lisa Leslie 13 and Diana Taurasi 12 and Tina Thompson 11.

And the U.S. team did it without starting guard Katie Smith, the outside shooting specialist sidelined by a bruised right knee. She hasn't practiced since the WNBA season ended July 31 and it's uncertain when she'll play.

Angela Marino led New Zealand with 13 points.

The United States had less than two weeks to get ready and the lack of time together was apparent when New Zealand zipped to a 7-0 lead in the first 93 seconds.

But the U.S. defense never relented after that and the Americans broke it open offensively after coach Van Chancellor replaced his starting five with a new unit at the 4:49 mark in the first quarter.

"I wasn't a very happy camper," Chancellor said. "They had us what, 7-0? We hadn't thought about guarding anybody. We turned it over five times. I said let's see what the other five can do. They couldn't do any worse."

It was just what the team needed.

Former Connecticut stars Taurasi, Cash and Sue Bird joined Yolanda Griffith and Shannon Johnson on a 20-3 run, turning a 10-8 deficit into a 28-13 lead at the quarter break. From then on, the game became little more than an exhibition of American talent and basketball savvy.

"I like to call it first starters and second starters," Leslie said. "It's an advantage to sit and gather yourself and see a group come on with lots of energy. We came out a little flat, a little nervous and they got it going."

It was 63-24 at halftime, thanks to a 10-0 U.S. run at the end of the period, and the lead grew to 46 just after three minutes into the second half. If it wasn't over before, it was then.

The only downside for the Americans: 27 turnovers and 26 fouls. But they forced 29 turnovers and had a 58-28 rebounding edge.

"Sometimes it's hard to get a good chemistry, but so far we've been willing to put the egos aside, the minutes and points aside and just go out to win," Taurasi said.

Highlights? There were many.

Dawn Staley stole the ball and fed Thompson for a layup that turned into a three-point play. After going scoreless for the first 13:18, Leslie converted a three-point play, scored on a putback and hit a jumper from the left wing - all in 32 seconds.

Swoopes blocked a shot at the top of the key, got fouled going to the basket and sank two free throws. The 6-foot-5 Leslie blocked a shot inside with a light flick of her right wrist and scored from the top of the key seconds later.

When New Zealand's Julie Ofsoski got the ball near the basket, Ruth Riley, Tamika Catchings and Griffith all soared in to block the shot. Catchings was called for a foul, though on a replay it appeared that none of three made any contact.

When it seemed that Griffith had ended the first-half scoring by making two free throws with 4.9 seconds left, Catchings stole the inbounds pass and laid the ball in before most reporters looked back up from their notepads.

This was all in startling contrast to how things started for the Americans. In a word - terribly.

Leslie was stripped of the ball and called for charging on the first two possessions. Catchings missed a jumper the first time the United States took a shot. Meanwhile, New Zealand scored on a driving layup, a 3-pointer and a backdoor layup in taking a 7-0 lead, prompting a timeout by Chancellor.

That was all it took. The United States scored the next eight points and New Zealand made only one field goal over the next 10 1/2 minutes.

"I'm pretty confident we have the talent to dominate, but on any night it can be hard," Cash said. "If we go out there and play together, you'll see this."


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