U.S. women are real Dream Team
LONDON -- When Chuck Daly coached the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, he shared one specific goal with his players: He wanted to make it through the entire competition without calling a single timeout.
With guys like Jordan, Barkley and Magic watching Daly's back, he didn't need to. The United States cruised to Olympic gold and grew accustomed to opposing players, coaches and even referees asking for pictures, handshakes, pins and autographs during warm-ups.
Opponents in London haven't been hounding Candace Parker, Angel McCoughtry, Tamika Catchings, Sue Bird or Diana Taurasi for pregame photos, but the aura surrounding this collection of basketball stars is unmistakable. It's the United States -- and everybody else.
The squad continues to make a convincing case for surpassing the 1996 and 2008 U.S. women's Olympic squads as the most dominant group of female basketball players ever assembled.
The roster features a plethora of former All-Americans, national players of the year and NCAA champions bolstered by the Connecticut Contingent, six of them in all, each of whom won it all under Geno's watch.
Never mind the debate of Kobe's team versus Barkley's team that dominated the pre-Olympic chatter in basketball circles.
The U.S. women are the real Dream Team of these Olympic Games, dispatching opponents by an average of 37.6 points a game and spreading the offensive wealth as smoothly as creamy peanut butter on a piece of Wonder bread.
The latest victim was Canada, which the Americans shredded 91-48 in quarterfinal action on Tuesday afternoon.
They did so by holding Canada to 30 percent shooting, by pounding them 48-31 on the glass, by forcing them into 26 turnovers.
Auriemma nods when asked about Daly's pre-Olympic goal. He's a basketball historian, so he knows all about the former Prince of Pessimism's mantra.
But Auriemma said his group has steered clear of setting any side agendas aside from the obvious gold medal.
"If we win that, all the other stuff takes care of itself," explained point guard Sue Bird.
That doesn't mean others haven't tried to come up with a catchy slogan for the U.S. women.
"Someone put shirts in our rooms that said 'Road to Respect,' " Auriemma said. "I thought that was kind of dumb. Sue Bird has won two gold medals, two WNBA championships, a million championships in Europe, world championships for the U.S., and a couple of national championships with Connecticut.
"If they don't respect her by now, then screw them."
When you can stop a team from getting a shot off, that's pretty good. It's not the hardest thing in the world to shoot the ball. Getting a quality shot, maybe, but we kept them from doing that, too.” -- Diana Taurasi on Team USA forcing Canada into three shot-clock violations in the first half
Auriemma said he had no idea who provided his squad with the T-shirts.
"I don't know," he said. "Probably some crazy fan."
The Americans' dominance has been even more impressive considering that Sylvia Fowles has been nursing a banged-up knee. She logged 8½ minutes against Canada and still managed to score 12 points, all in the fourth quarter. The 6-foot-5 Fowles will need to be a factor in the semifinal against Australia, which includes 6-8 Elizabeth Cambage, 6-5 WNBA star Lauren Jackson and 6-4 center/forward Suzy Batkovic.
The primary challenge for the U.S. has been to maintain an edgy, focused approach to each game. The Americans claimed to be concerned about Canada controlling the tempo into a slow-down, ball-control style, but that never materialized.
It's kind of hard to control the tempo when players like Catchings are jumping in your passing lanes and pushing it in transition. The only mild complaint that Auriemma could muster at halftime was the team had turned it over eight times (they cut that to two in the second half).
"I think we all take responsibility for making sure we do the right thing on each possession," offered Parker, who submitted 12 points and seven rebounds in 13 minutes of quality time.
It's all about defense first for the U.S. women, and according to Bird, it had been a bit of an issue for the squad at the start of the past couple of games.
Having established that as a priority, the Americans suffocated Canada's shell-shocked guards with trapping pressure, full-court harassment and excellent interior defense. The U.S. led 19-8 after one quarter and forced three 24-second violations in the first half alone -- and had another four possessions in which Canada got off a hurried shot to avoid the same fate.
"That's probably a better feeling than making a 3," Taurasi said. "When you can stop a team from getting a shot off, that's pretty good. It's not the hardest thing in the world to shoot the ball. Getting a quality shot, maybe, but we kept them from doing that, too."
Auriemma is used to coaching teams that steamroll most opponents most nights. Certainly that has been his experience for the bulk of his career in Storrs, Conn. If he was back at Gampel Pavilion, he'd manufacture some angst, nitpick about some minor flaw in order to express his frustration at the most innocuous miscues.
Old habits die hard, and even though Auriemma maintained he was on his best "conservative British behavior," he did snap at former UConn player Tina Charles when she rushed a turnaround in traffic.
"Don't throw it up there," Auriemma bellowed.
The score at the time was 47-23.
That, of course, is entirely beside the point. Auriemma coaches each possession as if it's the last second of a tied game to win the gold medal. He will not stand for a substandard effort, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.
"Defense has got to be the focus," Taurasi said, shrugging. "It helps that we are so deep and no one plays a lot of minutes.
"I can tell you each of these guys is going to go back to the WNBA to score 20 [points] and get seven [rebounds] and seven [assists]. You think they're going to pick up full court?
"You're crazy. It's not going to happen."
Close your eyes and Taurasi sounds a lot like her coach. They see the game the same way and articulate it in the same staccato delivery.
"Every one of these guys is a great offensive player," Auriemma said, moments before Taurasi's quote. "They don't need to be shown how to score.
"But we gotta go through some defensive stuff. I don't think a lot of them made this team because they are great defenders."
Perhaps Auriemma's greatest challenge has been to juggle minutes for his players. Maya Moore played a game-high 24 minutes in the win over Canada, with Taurasi logging 22 and Bird 21. The rest of the regulars fell in somewhere between 13 and 20 minutes.
By then the game had long been decided. Truthfully, the game was over in the first seven minutes, when Parker took it over and led the U.S. on an 11-0 run that left the Americans on top 19-4.
Canada called time to stop the bleeding. Auriemma never really needed to do the same thing.
Chuck Daly would have been proud.