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U.S. Victory Over South Korea Tempered by Loss of Holdsclaw


SYDNEY, Australia — Chamique Holdsclaw sat on the bench Saturday, her right foot in a boot because of a stress fracture that might keep her out of five Olympic basketball games--and maybe more.

On the court, her U.S. teammates beat South Korea by only 14 points, a closer margin than any game the U.S. women played on the way to the gold medal in Atlanta in 1996.

There was never any sense of an upset stirring during the 89-75 U.S. victory in front of 6,939 at The Dome, but there was a sense that this gold medal is not a rubber-stamp affair.

Saturday morning, the team learned it had lost a bit of its extraordinary depth because Holdsclaw is likely to sit out the five-game preliminary round after an MRI exam revealed a small stress fracture in her foot, which has bothered her for some time.

"It's really disappointing because I worked so hard to get here," said Holdsclaw, the youngest member of the team at 23.

An all-star for the Washington Mystics in the WNBA and the 1999 rookie of the year after twice being named the national college player of the year at Tennessee, Holdsclaw had been averaging about eight points for the U.S. team.

"It's my first Olympics, and I definitely want the opportunity to play," she said. "I'm going to try to rest during the preliminaries, work on my cardio, get a lot of treatment and hopefully I'll be ready for the medal round."

With Holdsclaw watching, the South Koreans--with their quick passing and weaving cuts--kept the Americans on their toes.

The U.S. led only 55-50 a few minutes into the second half before a three-pointer by Sheryl Swoopes and a basket by five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards extended the lead to 10.

Swoopes--the Houston Comet guard who was the WNBA's most valuable player this season--led the U.S. with 29 points, and Lisa Leslie had 24 points and 11 rebounds. The Americans dominated the boards, 41-19.

"I thought we did a very good job offensively, but we have to pick up our defense," Leslie said. "They're a very good team with a very difficult style to guard against.

"They did a very good job of penetrating and kicking the ball out, moving the ball until you have some miscommunication.

"It was hard. I'd find myself guarding somebody 5-foot-6. I'm 6-5, and I'd be on the point guard sometimes."

Sun-Min Jung scored 17 points for South Korea, making seven of 10 shots.

"The U.S. team is obviously the No. 1 team in the world," she said. "We didn't expect to win, but I think everyone worked extremely hard."

South Korea isn't a medal favorite here, although the team won the silver in 1984.

"You look back, our toughest games are always against teams that play that style of basketball," U.S. Coach Nell Fortner said.

Prime example: The closest U.S. game in Atlanta was a 15-point victory over Japan.

The last time the U.S. won by as little as 14 points was when it beat Cuba for the bronze medal in 1992 after losing to the Unified Team in the semifinals.

The Cubans--who lost to Russia in Saturday's most competitive game--are the Americans' next opponent, Monday.

"We don't think we can come out and teams are going to lay down," Leslie said. "We're not taking anyone for granted."

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