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Monday, August 6, 2012
Team effort propels USA past China

By Mechelle Voepel

Quick-hit thoughts about Team USA's 114-66 victory over China on Sunday in the final game of group play:

What happened: Of course, the U.S. women's basketball team must deal with the fact that almost everyone thinks it will be up by at least 20 points before the game even starts. Fortunately, the Americans are well-equipped to meet such expectations. The 114 points ties an American record for points in an Olympic contest (previously set in 1992), and Team USA could have scored more. But it wasn't needed.

Forgive the gruesome imagery, but watching Team USA is like observing a boa constrictor at work. Sometimes it takes the Americans a little longer to squeeze the life out of their foes, but once the constriction starts, the "prey" is doomed.

Sunday against China, the game was fairly even for 10 minutes, with Team USA holding a 31-28 lead after one quarter. China shot 66.7 percent in that first period … and then the squeezing began.

Marked by a three-quarter-court trapping press that the Americans are both talented and deep enough to execute with devastating effects, the second quarter decided the game. Led by off-the-bench energy from Angel McCoughtry, Lindsay Whalen, Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles (appearing in just her second game of these Olympics), Team USA outscored the Chinese 30-8 in the period for a 61-36 lead at the break.

The "challenge" for the Americans in the second half was to keep things clean and crisp during a blowout, and they did that. Over the final three periods, the Americans "won" 83-38 -- the kind of palindromic score we've so often seen from USA coach Geno Auriemma's UConn teams against overmatched opponents.

What it means: The Americans, as expected, are 5-0 and head into the quarterfinals as the top seed in Group A. They will face Canada on Tuesday in the next step toward their goal of a fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal. The Canadians gave Australia a run for its money Sunday, but fell 72-63 and finished fourth in Group B.

Play of the game: This is tiny, arcane and technically insignificant. But it symbolizes the hunger/effort shown by Team USA. In the second quarter, when it was clear the Americans were well into the runaway process, Tamika Catchings tipped away a ball from a Chinese player, who let it go out of bounds.

But Catchings actually tried to claw her way around her foe, hoping to get the ball in the very short distance of daylight left before it went out of bounds. She couldn't do it … but the fact that in such a moment she was still trying to make a play is a great example of why Team USA never lets a game dissolve into a sloppy blowout.

Player of the game: Not to cop out, but if there was any game to highlight the "team" instead of one individual, this was it. Much is made, fairly, about the limited amount of preparation time the Americans have for international competitions. But clearly the mindset of playing together comes instinctively to the teams that USA Basketball has assembled on the women's side.

No stat represents team play better than assists, and Sunday the Americans set a team record for doing the dishes in an Olympic game. Team USA had 33 assists; Catchings led the way with seven. On a squad that has some of the best one-on-one women's players in the world, "team" ruled the day.

By the numbers: We've already mentioned the records tied or broken, which indicate the consistency with which the Americans played throughout this game. Six U.S. players scored in double figures, led by Diana Taurasi with 22. In the past two games, she has looked like the "real" DT, shooting a combined 14-of-23 from the field for 40 points.

McCoughtry continues to be the human spark plug, a role she has played to great acclaim at these Olympics. Against China, she had 16 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals. She was 8-of-8 from the field and continues to be a lightning-quick joy to watch in London, always making things happen when she's on the floor.

Fowles, who has been bothered by a tendon problem in her foot, is being eased back into action. She made all three of her shots from the field Sunday in less than 10 minutes of court time.

The Americans shot 62.6 percent from the field (52-of-83) and really couldn't have asked for a better game with which to finish group play and head into the quarterfinals.