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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Aussies Dressed but U.S. Finds the Success

July 28, 1996|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — This wasn't the lighthearted night it appeared to be for the U.S. women's basketball team.

Not after the players, staying next to Centennial Park, heard the explosion. Not after a night assuring relatives calling from all over that they were all right. Not after going to sleep in the early hours of the morning, wondering if they would be playing.

"Everyone on our team was aware of it," said Coach Tara VanDerveer after the Americans beat previously unbeaten Australia Saturday night, 96-79.

"We were in our hotel and it was loud. They didn't get their sleep. They weren't well rested. It was upsetting. But these are professional players. They're Olympians.

"I thought they came out and basically just concentrated on the job at hand. I feel very sympathetic to the people who were involved in the incident, but we were able to focus very well on what we needed to do against Australia and I was very proud of that."

This battle of Group B unbeatens provided the best American basketball game at these Games. The Australians, in their spandex outfits, actually managed a significant lead, going six points ahead on three occasions late in the first half.

However, point guard Teresa Edwards, a four-time Olympian, led her U.S. teammates back with a monster game--20 points, 15 assists, seven rebounds while making seven of eight shots.

"I think she absolutely kicked my . . . tonight," said Michele Timms, herself one of the world's top point guards in a show of candor that explains why the world loves the Aussies.

"For someone to get 20 points and 15 assists and seven rebounds. . . . I kinda walked off the court hoping she didn't. She's the best. I really enjoy matching up with her. And I think in the past I haven't done such a bad job against her. But tonight, I don't think I did a very good job at all against her."

Edwards, taciturn as ever with the press, scarcely batted an eye at the compliment.

The Americans, however, had been eyeing this game all week, for more reasons than one.

Start with the Aussies' tight uniforms, which suggest the feminist movement hasn't made as much headway in Australia as in the United States.

VanDerveer said she preferred the Michael Jordan baggy-shorts look. Lisa Leslie, who has modeled for Vogue magazine and now wants to be in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, said the uniforms were "degrading."

Nonsense, said Australian forward Trisha Fallon.

"I definitely prefer them to what the Americans wear," she said. "And they look good too. All the girls on our team have fit, healthy bodies so we can wear them. We've had them for nearly four years now and nobody's made a stink about it before."

At any rate, despite their cultural differences, the teams got together and played on even terms until the second half when the Americans went on an 11-2 run, with Edwards scoring three of the points, assisting on a basket by Leslie and starting another fastbreak with a length-of-the-court baseball pass.

Not that the Aussies are conceding anything. Coach Thomas Maher, asked if the U.S. was the best woman's team here, snapped, "Well, we'll find out [next] Sunday, won't we?"

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