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BEIJING 2008 : WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

U.S. rolls past South Korea

August 20, 2008|K.C. Johnson | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- Seven seconds after Tuesday's opening tipoff, Lisa Leslie scored on a power move inside.

Freeze that image. Repeat it. And you have an idea of how the U.S. women's Olympic basketball team destroyed South Korea, 104-60, to advance to Thursday's semifinals.

The Americans' staggering 66-28 edge in points in the paint exhibited not just an ability to follow a game plan but also this squad's versatility. Through six victories by an average of 43.2 points, the U.S. has won with its defense one game, its transition game the next, its inside game another.

Is it any wonder that the U.S. is leading this tournament in -- deep breath here -- scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin, shooting percentage, defensive field-goal percentage, three-point shooting percentage and assists?

"One to 12, we have good players on this team," Leslie said. "We have a lot of depth and can beat teams a lot of different ways."

Despite the lack of close games, the U.S. has faced a variety of defensive looks and guarded varying offensive styles. That should be preparation enough for a semifinal matchup against Russia and Becky Hammon.

Yes, that Becky Hammon. And, yes, that Russian team that defeated the Americans in the semifinals of the 2006 world championships.

Left out of the pool to select the U.S. Olympic team, Hammon, a South Dakota native who is a naturalized Russian citizen because she plays for a club team there, will be playing against her country, for a team that is owed one by Team USA.

"This is a friend of mine, but when we step on the court she'll have those Russian colors on," guard Sue Bird said. "And that makes her the enemy."

Bird insists this national team is different than the one that lost to Russia.

"Our bench is deeper," Bird said. "We keep teams on their toes because we keep coming at them. I think we have a better mix of veteran leadership and first-time Olympians and players that bridge the gap. It's really a good chemistry."

That chemistry has manifested itself in balanced scoring and dominant defense.

Knowing that South Korea entered Tuesday's game with a tournament-high 37 three-pointers, U.S. Coach Anne Donovan wanted to exploit her team's height advantage inside.

After a taut first quarter, the U.S. began to pull away by hammering the ball inside. Center Sylvia Fowles had 12 of her game-high 26 points in 11 first-half minutes and scored back-to-back baskets within a minute of her entrance.

"I think I was in a good groove and felt really well," Fowles said. "I didn't see anything stopping me."

Her teammates feel the same way.

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