Starters, subs shine for U.S. women
SEATTLE -- In its first tuneup for the 2012 Summer Olympics, the U.S. women's basketball team looked golden, crushing China 100-62 in an exhibition at KeyArena on Saturday night.
Favorites to win their fifth straight gold medal in London two months from now, the Americans started slow but showed why they hold a 33-0 Olympic win streak dating back to the 1992 Games, when they won bronze.
Not only were their starters dominant Saturday night, but the team didn't skip a beat when coach Geno Auriemma looked to his bench less than five minutes in. He sat most of his star-studded starting lineup in the final quarter.
Tamika Catchings scored a team-high 19 points and had five steals despite playing just 14 minutes, 27 seconds, fewer minutes than any U.S. player but one. Maya Moore came off the bench -- a lot -- to score 15 points, while Sylvia Fowles added 12.
"It's just a blast," said Moore, one of just five players who don't own Olympic gold. "Once we get together a little bit more, get a feel for each other a little more, it's going to be even more fun."
Ma Zengyu led China with 20 points. The team shot just 42 percent overall with 22 turnovers. China, which finished fourth as host of the 2008 Beijing Games behind the United States, Australia and Russia, didn't play two of its best players, Miao Lijie and Chen Nan. Coach Sun Fengwu said he played a young lineup. "Some of the girls, they are shaking in panic at the big games," he said.
The Americans were impressive inside, outscoring China 60-20 in the paint and shooting 61 percent overall. This, on only a few hours of practice as a team -- one session Friday and another Saturday.
But all that glittered wasn't necessarily gold. The U.S. team committed 21 turnovers to just 16 assists.
"That's not good," said Auriemma, whose team -- selected by a five-member committee -- features six alums from his University of Connecticut Huskies. "You have an all-star team with the best players in America, so they all want to prove that they're unselfish. So instead of taking a wide-open shot, they throw a stupid pass. That's what most of the turnovers were tonight. As they settle in, they'll realize that it's OK to shoot the ball."
The U.S. women trailed only once, 2-0, in the game's opening minutes and led 52-33 at halftime. Up by 11 points, the Americans broke open the game with a 10-0 run after four steals in two minutes, including three by Catchings, that made it 50-29. As time wore down, the only suspense that remained was whether Team USA would hit 100. When it did, with Candace Parker's lay-in with 2.9 seconds left, the partisan crowd roared.
Auriemma, head coach of the Olympic team for the first time after serving as an assistant, said the team needs to improve its defense.
"We gave up too many points in the first half," he said. "But we talked about this in the locker room -- not one player on this team was picked because they're a great defensive player. We have all these good offensive players that are going to moan when we make them play defense. Defense is going to be the last thing that we get right, but as the weeks go on, we're going to get it right."
Putting basketball in economic terms, Team USA is the 1 percent. The team returns seven Olympians from the 2008 Games in Beijing. How's this for starters on Saturday: Catchings, Fowles and Parker (the best frontcourt on the planet), plus Taurasi (nine points) and Sue Bird, two of just six players in history to win a college title, WNBA title and Olympic and world championship gold.
Plus, there's that Olympic pedigree, one so good it's taken for granted: The U.S. women's Olympic history is mind-boggling -- a 50-3 record in eight appearances, including six golds, one silver and one bronze.
"The beauty of this team is everyone can bring something different," Catchings said.
Then there's the bench, which combined for 48 points and starred Moore, Lindsay Whalen (11 points) and Swin Cash (10 points).
"I think back to 2004, I don't know that we were as deep," said Bird, who played with a mask to protect her nose, broken last March (and for the third time since 2004) in EuroLeague play. "This team and 2008 the talent is so deep. You can go out there and exert all your energy because you know that with the next person coming in, there's going to be no drop-off. This team is very deep, a lot of lineups, a variety of things you can throw at teams and it'll probably work because the talent is there."
Taurasi said the score hardly means Team USA -- which will face China in opening-round play in London -- is ready for a golden performance in the Games. But she's confident they'll get there with Auriemma at the helm.
"I think Coach has the perfect plan to utilize each one of us," she said.