The message to the U.S. players was loud, clear and simple.
If you see Lisa Leslie or Tina Thompson standing anywhere near the basket, throw them the ball, demanded U.S. coach Van Chancellor. Got it?
Leslie and Thompson scored on one close-in shot after another as the United States hit South Korea with a big second half run, winning 80-57 Wednesday
to stay unbeaten with a third straight victory in the Summer Games.
"I told them if they want to stay on the floor, they better pass it inside,'' Chancellor said -- great strategy when the two players catching the ball
Leslie hit 11 of 13 shots and scored 25 points despite sitting most of the fourth quarter. Thompson added 18 points and well into the third quarter,
she and Leslie were outscoring the entire South Korean team.
When the United States broke it open with a 19-2 run to start the second half, Leslie and Thompson were right in the thick of things. The duo turned
sharp passes into easy baskets, deflating a South Korean team that shot its 3-pointers well in the first half and led 23-20 after one quarter.
"We really jumped on them in the third quarter,'' Leslie said. "No matter what's gone on in the first half, the third quarter is the key for us to try
and dominate and I thought we were excellent today.''
This time, the U.S. men's team and coaches got a look at how their counterparts play, appearing late in the third quarter while Leslie was shooting a
free throw. That seemed fitting since Leslie had suggested the men could perhaps learn something from watching her team.
"Maybe they can learn a little from us about moving the ball around,'' she said. Then she added with a laugh, "We learned a lot from them, too, things
we shouldn't do.''
It took a half for the United States to figure out what it shouldn't do in this one. The Americans kept shooting 3-pointers in the first two quarters
and they kept clanging off the rim -- except the one Tamika Catchings lodged between the basket and backboard
"There was no reason for us to shoot 3s today,'' Leslie said. "Even against the zone, the middle was wide open.''
Leslie and Thompson took advantage of that space. With the United States leading 39-32, Leslie flicked the second half tip to Catchings for a layup
and the gates opened for a succession of easy shots.
Leslie scored twice off lob passes from Dawn Staley. Sheryl Swoopes fed Leslie for a layup and made a nifty underhand feed through traffic to Thompson
for another close-in shot. When the lane opened up, Staley drove past her defender and scooped in a layup.
By the 4:48 mark of the third quarter, the United States led 58-34 and South Korea was struggling to get the 3-point shots vital to its offense.
"It was the best quarter we've played in a long time,'' Diana Taurasi said. "If we want to go far in this tournament, that's how we have to play.''
That domination was missing earlier, when the South Koreans had the Americans chasing them all over the floor. South Korea went 6-for-13 from 3-point
range in the first half with Mi Sun Lee, who led her team with 16 points, even kissed one in off the glass from the left corner.
But the U.S. players got better pressure on the shooters in the second half by switching off on screens instead of trying to fight through them,
limiting South Korea to three 3s the rest of the way.
Eventually, the Americans got a couple of their own to drop; the United States finished 3-for-20 on 3-pointers. When Swoopes finally made one midway
through the third quarter, the entire U.S. bench stood up and raised their arms.
"We had open jump shots that we just have to step up and knock down,'' said Katie Smith, who played for the first time after being sidelined by a
bruised right knee. "But we have such great offensive rebounders that when we miss the first shot, it's not always bad that they clean it up.''