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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Women's Team Gets Just What It Wants: Brazil in Final Game

Basketball: Size is the key in 93-71 victory over Australia. Leslie has 22 points, 13 rebounds.

August 03, 1996|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Suggestion for the Aussies: Better stick to that America's Cup.

Another Australian basketball team gave its all and was walked on by a superior American force. This time it was the U.S. women who romped past the spunky, Spandex-wrapped Aussies, 93-71, advancing to Sunday's gold-medal game against Brazil.

The arch-focused Americans and the high-spirited Brazilians are not fans of each other, especially since their last meeting, when Brazil defeated the U.S. in the 1994 World Championships at Sydney.

The Brazilians, of course, celebrated. The Americans have been grinding their teeth since.

"They kind of left a sour taste in our mouths," said Lisa Leslie, high for the U.S. again with 22 points.

"I always visualized then, after that loss, playing Brazil again. I don't think there's any better time that we can play them."

Someone had better tell the Brazilians there's a war going on and they're in it. After beating Ukraine on Friday, they staged another of their famous celebrations.

"To tell you the truth," Brazilian star Hortencia said, "the silver medal that we already have is like gold but now we get to play for the gold."

The Aussies, who are not as lighthearted, took their loss hard, refusing to believe they had really been beaten.

Thursday after the Dream Team ground under their men, the Aussies' Andrew Gaze said they couldn't match the Americans' size, strength and athleticism. Something similar seemed to happen in the women's half of the draw Friday, although the Aussie coach, Tom Maher, didn't see it that way.

"The men's game, it's just so much different," he said. "That U.S. men's team is just unbeatable at the moment.

"The [U.S.] women's team is an out-and-out hot favorite, but it's still a beatable proposition. Clearly, their athleticism is a problem for us but we've got some young players that are athletic that just have to learn how to use it."

The U.S. won the two meetings here by 17 and 22. Maher had better tell his young players, in Gaze's words, "grow a lot taller, run a lot faster and get a lot stronger."

The 6-foot-5 Leslie--she had 13 rebounds to go with her 22 points--and 6-2 Katrina McClain (18 points and 15 rebounds) dominated the willowy Aussies inside again and Maher couldn't figure out how to stop them. He put his smaller defenders in front of the tall Americans, but U.S. point guards Teresa Edwards and Dawn Staley lobbed over them all day. Edwards had eight assists, Staley seven.

Being Aussies, they gave it a go, though, and a passionate one it was. Their 5-5 point guard, Michele Timms, who said Edwards "just absolutely kicked my . . . " in their last meeting, scored 12 points in the first 4:41 as Australia took an 18-10 lead.

"Michele has a big heart," Edwards said. "Michele has a great game.

"I've actually watched her game grow over the years. She's an awesome player now. She's not going to let that team down. She's going to give them all she has. That's the same Michele I know from years back."

Timms finished with 27, making some three-point shots from farther away than Reggie Miller ever goes. But the Americans turned up their defense, got the ball inside and went on a 25-4 run. The rest was mopping up.

Getting a gang of zealous Aussies off your back is still work. In the second half, an Australian elbow came up and someone on the U.S. bench yelled, "Elbow!"

Moments later, Leslie scored and elbowed Australia's Shelley Sandie in the mouth, knocking out a tooth. Being Aussies, neither Sandie nor Maher complained.

"Elbows are part of the game," said Leslie, who was accused of throwing a few of them for USC in her Pac-10 career.

"I didn't mean to hit whatever player that I hit and I don't think that they were intentionally hitting us. The game was physical and elbows are going to be thrown and I'm sure that was just the beginning, because once we get in there with Brazil, we expect to see a lot more elbows being thrown."

Suggesting the growing love affair with this team, NBC moved Sunday's gold-medal game from 11:30 a.m. EDT to 6:35 p.m., telling USA Basketball it plans to stay with the game as a lead-in to the closing ceremonies.

There is no truth to the rumor that the Dream Team, now appearing in glimpses of a minute or two, has offered to buy some of the women's air time.

Those Brazilians, who are smaller, lighter and a lot less inclined to mix it up than the Aussies, had better knock off that conga line and head for the weight room. These Americans are in a bad, bad mood.

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