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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Nothing Preliminary About Calling U.S. Women Dominant

Basketball: They rout South Korea, 105-64, to remain unbeaten heading into quarterfinal game against Japan.

July 30, 1996|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — This time, the U.S. women's basketball team won by 41 points--and held South Korea to 14 in the second half.

Their two preliminary-round "squeakers" were by 17, and the other wins came by 33 and 60.

Are people going to start saying they're too good for the Olympics too?

"That would be great, wouldn't it?" U.S. Coach Tara VanDerveer said. "But it doesn't feel like it. We've played Canada before the Olympics and were down in the second half. We've played Russia to a one-point game. I don't feel it's automatic."

It wasn't in 1992, when the United States won only bronze. And though the U.S. team has swept through preliminary play unbeaten, finishing with a 105-64 victory over South Korea before 30,453 Monday at the Georgia Dome, the Americans have to win three more to take home the gold medals.

"It's too early to get excited," VanDerveer said. "I just feel our work is ahead of us. This is the real part here."

The United States will play Japan in a quarterfinal game Wednesday. The semifinals are Friday and the medals will be decided Sunday, the last day of the Olympics.

"The most important thing is to stay focused," said guard Ruthie Bolton, who had 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in less than 17 minutes against South Korea. "I'm very pleased with the way we're playing right now, but I know the competition is probably going to get harder. We need to do what we need to do to keep winning."

Brazil, playing in the other six-team pool, emerged as the only other unbeaten team with a 75-73 victory over Italy on Janeth Arcain's shot with three seconds left.

Despite the final margin, the Americans didn't have an easy time with South Korea.

VanDerveer considered the game good preparation for Japan because of the cutting, screening style the Asian teams share. But the United States led by only 10 at halftime, 60-50, after a wide-open first half marked by sharp shooting--and hardly any defense.

"Halftime wasn't pretty," VanDerveer said.

The U.S. team took a day off Sunday after beating a solid Australian team Saturday, and with a first-place finish in their pool assured, the team came out flat Monday.

The Koreans did some damage with quick touch passes as their players cut through the lane, but Yoo Young-Joo hurt the United States the most, making four three-point baskets in the first half.

"I just know I'm really tired," U.S. guard Jennifer Azzi said after the game. "They really make you play defense. They make you run. They run and cut constantly."

The United States switched to an aggressive matchup zone early in the second half, pushing Yoo out a few more feet and making it more difficult for South Korea to set effective screens.

Then Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and Bolton led a 17-2 U.S. outburst that included a couple of steals and fastbreak layups, and the game was over.

South Korea didn't score its second basket of the second half until 11:23 remained.

After making 59% of their shots in the first half, the South Koreans made only six of 35 (17%) in the second. They made only one of 24 three-point shots, and Yoo missed all eight of her attempts.

"They didn't shoot as well, and in the back of their minds it might have been because they knew we were going to the other end if they missed," VanDerveer said. "We jumped on them very quickly, and it can be harder to shoot well once you get down."

Maybe the best news for the United States was that none of the starters played more than 18 minutes and nobody played as many as 25. Leslie played little more than 16 minutes and finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and two assists.

"One of the things I felt today was I didn't want to put Katrina [McClain] and Lisa and some of the starters back in. I wanted our depth to do the job," VanDerveer said. "I didn't want there to be a chance of injury."

The Americans weren't always sharp--not with their first-half defense, and not on some garbage shots late in the game, when Venus Lacey and Rebecca Lobo missed wide-open two-footers.

That's the sort of sloppiness a team that's winning games by an average of 34 points should take pains to avoid.

"I try to tell them, you're playing against yourself," VanDerveer said. "If you have pride in your game, you don't let opponents determine how you play."

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