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BEIJING 2008 : WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

It all points to the hard work

August 12, 2008|K.C. Johnson | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- With an average victory margin of 42.5 points through two games, the U.S. women's Olympic basketball team could be forgiven for any of the following:

Daydreaming. Overconfidence. Hubris. Gold-medal sizings.

But anyone wondering if Team USA is looking past Mali, Wednesday's lightly regarded opponent, need only look at the final play from Monday night's laugher over China.

At the final buzzer, guard Cappie Pondexter dived for a loose ball. In a 108-63 victory.

That's a little like a fourth cup of coffee in the morning -- unnecessary yet stimulating.

"Stuff like that fires us up," guard Sue Bird said. "None of us were surprised. That just shows our work ethic and how hard we're going to play all game."

There's also this not-so-tiny nagging memory of Team USA's loss to Russia in the 2006 World Championships in Brazil. If current competition isn't exactly causing perspiration, thoughts of that loss will.

"I break out in a cold sweat still just thinking about that game," forward Tamika Catchings said. "We sat in the locker room for a good hour afterward. We had feelings of disbelief and extreme disappointment. We sat there and talked about how we didn't take care of business.

"That's why everybody has bought into the defense. At Athens in 2004, we were able to outscore everybody. By 2006, we realized the world is catching up because we relied too much on scoring and didn't play good defense. This team is different."

In victories against the Czech Republic and the host country, Team USA has been extremely businesslike. The offense has shown the ability to score in a variety of ways, accumulating a ridiculous 72 points in the paint against China.

Defensively, Team USA is denying entry passes on the wing and pressuring guards out front, resulting in plenty of steals and fastbreak opportunities.

It's this across-the-board commitment to the defensive end that's easing any concerns from the coaching staff about overconfidence.

"In the past, we've been concerned with that," Coach Anne Donovan acknowledged. "In '04, we were very concerned about that. But every one of our players has lost in the last two years. So I don't fear them losing their hunger or losing their focus with the lopsided wins."

Just perhaps some skin from floor burns.

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