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U.S. on a roll as it enters the medal round

August 18, 2008|K.C. Johnson | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- New Zealand is known for many things -- splendid isolation, spectacular flora, kiwi -- but women's basketball doesn't exactly leap to mind.

Pitted against the steamroller that is the U.S. Olympic team, matters played out to form Sunday night at Olympic Basketball Gymnasium.

The U.S. finished preliminary play with a perfect 5-0 record after its 96-60 victory, its 30th straight in Olympic play. A Tuesday quarterfinal matchup with South Korea awaits.

New Zealand, meanwhile, returned home to ponder things such as, well, flora and kiwi in splendid isolation.

The New Zealanders actually put in a minor scare -- and endeared themselves to the fans -- by hanging with the Americans for a quarter. But after trailing by only five points entering the second, New Zealand surrendered a 21-0 run and scored only six points in the period.

The rest of the game centered mostly on such things as the U.S. perfecting its defense -- a point of emphasis throughout this tournament -- and seeing whether it could exceed its average margin of victory of 44.7 points.

It couldn't.

Still, entering medal play, the "closest" contest the Americans have experienced is this 36-point victory.

"We wanted to play better as we moved into the medal round," forward Tamika Catchings said. "As a team, one through 12, we did a good job. We lost focus at times. But we're playing well."

Tina Thompson led the Americans with 15 points in 17 minutes. Katie Smith had 13, Seimone Augustus scored 12 and Catchings had 11 off the bench.

"Preliminary play was a good warmup for the challenge we have ahead," Olympic veteran Lisa Leslie said. "We saw a lot of different styles of basketball, so that will prepare us."

Leslie said that she experienced minor discomfort in the left hip she tweaked in Friday's victory over Spain, and that it "slowed down some of [her] moves." But she said she would undergo treatment today and be ready for the medal round.

The rest of her teammates will be as well.

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