Team USA takes on WNBA in final exhibition

NEW YORK -- The U.S. women's basketball team is expected to dominate the Athens Olympics.

First, they'll take on a WNBA All-Star team at Radio City Music Hall tonight (7 ET, ESPN), the squad's final warmup before heading to Europe this weekend.

"This is a chance to show the best women in the world and how competitive they play,'' said Detroit Shock coach Bill Laimbeer, who will coach the WNBA All-Stars.

Two-time Olympian Lisa Leslie will join USA starters Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes, Shannon Johnson and Tamika Catchings on stage at the famed music hall.

The WNBA All-Stars will start Connecticut's Nykesha Sales and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Detroit's Cheryl Ford, Los Angeles' Nikki Teasley and Anna DeForge of Phoenix.

Other members of the U.S. team are Sue Bird of Seattle, Ruth Riley and Swin Cash of Detroit, Yolanda Griffith of Sacramento, Katie Smith of Minnesota, Dawn Staley of Charlotte and Diana Taurasi of Phoenix.

The WNBA All-Stars consist of Allison Feaster of Charlotte, Lindsay Whalen of Connecticut, Deanna Nolan of Detroit, Natalie Williams of Indiana, Mwadi Mabika of Los Angeles and Becky Hammon of New York.

"We're going to treat it like a normal game because we need all the preparation we can get,'' said Taurasi, a rookie on the USA Team.

Van Chancellor, coach of the U.S. team and the Houston Comets, isn't sure what to expect in the game.

"We're playing this game just like we're getting ready for the Olympics,'' he said. "This is not a normal All-Star game. We're going to play and try to get ready to win a gold medal. That's our whole preparation, our whole thought process.''

Laimbeer said the All-Stars weren't taking the game lightly either.

"We'd like to win, that's what we're going to try to do,'' he said. "We're up against a very talented ball club obviously. I'm going to throw stuff at them defensively that they'll probably see over in Athens. That's the best way to beat a team like the U.S., to keep them confused.''

Chancellor wasn't certain the All-Stars will give the Olympians a tougher game than they'll face in Athens.

"People don't understand the preparation the Brazil team has had, the Russian team has had,'' he said. "It's amazing how much preparation these other teams have had. Just look at the Italian team playing our men's team. These teams practicing, playing together year-round got some kind of advantage.''

Staley, a two-time Olympic and world championship gold medalist, agreed with her coach's assessment.

"With a couple of more practices, yes ... but coming off two shootarounds, no,'' she said. "I think they're going to give us a go early, but our team has played together so long. We have the cream of the crop of WNBA players ... some of the best players in the world.''

In normal All-Star games, coaches try to play all the players evenly. That might not be the case in this game.

"The starters will probably play more minutes than the subs,'' Laimbeer said. "If someone is hitting off, they will play accordingly, because they're doing it, they're into it and they're contributing.''

The game is being held on the stage of the famous concert hall, where the Liberty are playing six home games due to the upcoming Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden.

"While you look around before the game, when the game starts you don't even notice that,'' said Laimbeer, whose team played the Liberty in the first game at Radio City on July 24. "It's all dark. You're just focused on the lines, the ball, the referees.''

In that game, Cash went off the stage while diving for a loose ball.

"She won't do that again,'' Laimbeer said with a laugh. "She knows it's there now.''

After this game, the U.S. national team -- 13-0 earlier this year in exhibitions against international teams -- will face France on Sunday in the opener of a two-day tournament in Salamanca, Spain, before beginning Olympic play against New Zealand on Aug. 14.