Diana Taurasi smiled and showed the flair that made her such a star at Connecticut. Katie Smith grimaced in pain and frustration while holding her
A breakout game by Taurasi that completed the first phase of the U.S. basketball team's bid for a third straight Olympic gold medal was tempered by
the sight of Smith on crutches.
Getting 19 points from Taurasi and contributions from everyone who played, the United States rolled past China 100-62 on Sunday in its final game of
the preliminary round. Smith, the team's best outside shooter, could only watch after re-injuring her right knee in the first quarter.
The initial diagnosis was a sprain and her status for the rest of the Summer Games was questionable. She bruised the knee in late July and missed the
first game of the Olympics.
"We don't think Katie is going to be able to come back -- or we don't know,'' Yolanda Griffith said. "Maybe it's a miracle and she may be ready to
come back. If not, we have to pull together as a team. Just having her on the team with us is motivation.''
Taurasi, who led UConn to its third straight NCAA championship in April, replaced Smith and had her best game by far in Athens. She drove to the
basket, pulled up for jumpers and made two 3-pointers in almost matching the 22 points she had scored in the first four games.
"Sometimes you just have to wait for the game to come to you, get a little more aggressive,'' Taurasi said.
Smith was hurt in a game that meant nothing other than extending the U.S. winning streak in the Olympics to 22. The United States already had secured
first place in Group B and China had no chance of advancing to Wednesday's quarterfinals.
That gave Chancellor an opportunity to try different combinations and give everyone plenty of rest. Still, it was more of the same: Lisa Leslie and
Griffith dominated inside and the United States harassed the Chinese players all over the floor with its pressure defense, forcing 27 turnovers and
making 22 steals.
As a bonus, the United States had its best game so far shooting the ball -- 52 percent (44-for-85) -- and outrebounded its shorter opponent 46-20.
"I think we came out and took care of business in the second half,'' Griffith said. "I think the first half we missed some shots we needed to make and
didn't rotate the ball as well as we're capable of moving the ball.
"I think the second half we played much better as a team. We broke them down and really had to make a statement in the second half.''
Leslie finished with 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting, Griffith scored 15 and Sheryl Swoopes 13. Li Ye led China with 19.
Next for the Americans is a scrappy team from Greece that has been getting a huge lift from large, loud, adoring crowds. Greece, playing in the
Olympics for the first time, secured a quarterfinal berth with a 93-91 victory over Japan -- a win the players celebrated by forming a circle at
midcourt and dncing the "Syrtaki.''
"The building was shaking when we walked in with 2.9 seconds left,'' Taurasi said. "These people know how to have a blast.''
Smith collapsed at the 3:29 mark in the first quarter when she turned while playing defense. Trainers helped her to the bench, where she buried her
head in her hands, in obvious pain, then started hitting the seat next to her in frustration.
After going to the locker room, Smith was rolled back out in a wheelchair during the third quarter and was on crutches afterward.
"I planted and turned and felt something,'' said Smith, who helped the United States win the gold in the 2000 Sydney Games. "Whatever I did, I don't
The United States started taking control not long after Smith got hurt, getting the ball to Leslie inside or setting up perimeter shots with crisp
passing. Griffith capped a strong first quarter when she grabbed an offensive rebound with her left hand and banked in a shot with her right at the
buzzer, making it 27-13.
She did the same thing just before halftime, that bucket making it 52-32. China, which lost four players during the game to injuries, never threatened
in the second half.
Former Connecticut stars Sue Bird and Swin Cash hooked up on the prettiest play of the game. Bird collected a long rebound in the fourth quarter,
dribbled up the middle of the court and, while looking to her right, bounced the ball to her left. Cash scooped it up and sailed in for a layup.