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U.S. Women Coast Past China; Smith Hurt

August 23, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — They needed softball's mercy rule at the Olympic basketball venue Sunday night. The veteran U.S. women's team, undefeated in five games and favored to win the gold medal, crushed China, 100-62.

It was a game of loose play and easy baskets by the Americans. The U.S. led at halftime, 52-32, and the only negative, in addition to a steady flow of turnovers in a game that never found any rhythm, was an injury to reserve Katie Smith, who sprained her knee early in the game and did not return. Smith, a guard on the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA, will have an MRI exam today and her availability for the rest of this tournament will be determined then.

The U.S. will be seeded No. 1 from Group B when single-elimination play begins Wednesday with quarterfinals. Australia, also unbeaten after an 84-66 victory Sunday over Brazil, will get the top spot from Group A. In other results: Greece defeated Japan, 93-91; Russia beat Nigeria, 93-58; Spain edged South Korea, 64-61; and the Czech Republic beat New Zealand, 74-57.

The U.S. will open against Greece in the playoffs, presenting an interesting matchup and reunion. Dawn Staley, veteran point guard, coaches at Temple University, as well as playing with the Charlotte Sting of the WNBA. One of her players at Temple was recently graduated Athena Christoforaki, who will play for Greece.

"It'll be fun," Staley said. "One thing, she is a magnet for the ball. I'll have to give my teammates a scouting report."

In a game Sunday that included 27 turnovers by China and 19 by the U.S. -- as well as 22 steals for the U.S. -- WNBA rookie Diana Taurasi was the scoring leader with 19 points, making two of six from three-point range. Lisa Leslie had 17 points, Yolanda Griffith 15 and Sheryl Swoopes 13.

With a huge height and speed advantage, the U.S. shot 52% and had 22 assists.

Ruth Riley, who usually plays in short spurts as the backup for Leslie, got in 13 minutes, scored nine points and is eager for the quarterfinals to begin.

"Playing Greece is great," she said. "They are proud people, they will come out to back their team, and the game will have a great atmosphere."

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