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ATHENS 2004

U.S. Women Get Last Word Too

Coach jokes about his players' input, but their output, after the team starts slowly, is what takes care of the Czech Republic in an 80-61 victory.

August 17, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — For Van Chancellor, the positive aspect of coaching so many smart, experienced players on the U.S. women's Olympic basketball team is that they often act like coaches on the floor.

They also act like coaches in the locker room and during timeouts, never hesitating to offer suggestions.

"Sometimes, at halftime, the coach can get a word in edgewise," he said jokingly.

They put their words into action Monday in devising ways to overcome the team's second successive slow start. Capitalizing on their defensive prowess and rebounding strength, the U.S. women played with the kind of energy and selflessness their male counterparts have lacked, rallying for an 80-61 victory over the Czech Republic at the Helliniko Indoor Arena.

"Overall, we came out and executed and did the things we wanted to do," said Sheryl Swoopes, who scored all seven of her points in the second half. "In the first quarter they came out and did not miss. We turned up our defense and got a little more aggressive and slowed them down.

"Once they cooled off, their transition game never got going, and that's one of their biggest strengths."

As in its opener against New Zealand, in which it trailed, 7-0, early, the U.S. wasn't sharp from the outset and had to find a response to the Czechs' hot shooting. The answer proved to be clamping down defensively and playing tougher inside, even though the slippery floor made an adventure out of every trip into the paint.

"The floor is horrible," Swoopes said. "I don't know if it's paint or vinyl but it's very slippery. I watched the men fall [Sunday] night too. People are hesitant to go there."

Perils aside, the U.S. women played with unswerving determination at every position. Eleven of their 12 players scored, with only Katie Smith missing out on the fun while she recovers from a bruised right knee.

Lisa Leslie of the WNBA's Sparks led the U.S. with 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, evenly split between the offensive and defensive boards. Her efforts were key to the U.S. team's 43-22 rebounding edge. Tina Thompson of the WNBA Houston Comets -- one of the players Chancellor calls his "zone busters" -- added 12 points.

Zuzana Klimesova led the Czechs with 18 points, but she made only two of seven field-goal attempts in the second half and scored only six points in the last 20 minutes.

"Our team played well but it's difficult to play against them because almost all the players play in the WNBA," said Klimesova, who played college ball at Vanderbilt and was nicknamed "Special K" by Chancellor when he did color commentary for Southeastern Conference telecasts.

"They are very good shooting for three points, and it is difficult to defend against these players."

The Czechs, who had lost a pair of games to the U.S. in March by a total of 43 points, took good shots and made them in building a 21-12 lead with 1:34 left in the first quarter.

Their game began to fall apart when point guard Romana Hamzova picked up her fourth foul and was pulled with 1:17 left in the opening quarter. The Czechs had no one nearly as good, and the U.S. capitalized on that to begin a 6-0 run to close out the quarter. Yolanda Griffiths' aggressiveness on offense and fearlessness on defense fueled a 14-0 U.S. spree in the late stages of the second quarter, and when the U.S. opened the third quarter with a 16-2 spurt, the game was essentially over.

"We're on our way to pretty good," Chancellor said, "but we're not there yet."

And for once, he had the last word.

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