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There is plenty of motivation for U.S.

August 22, 2008|K.C. Johnson | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- Anne Donovan reached into her pocket Thursday night and, without a word, delivered one of the best pregame motivational ploys possible.

A bronze medal rested in her hand, a dull reminder of what Russia had done to the Americans at the 2006 world championships in Brazil.

"It really was a terrible feeling to go back to that locker room two years ago," guard Diana Taurasi said of a semifinal loss that cost the U.S. a shot at gold.

"We didn't want to have that happen again."

That won't be an issue at these Olympics after the U.S. women extracted revenge from Russia with a 67-52 triumph in a hard-fought, physical affair.

Taurasi's five three-pointers and 21 points helped the Americans extend their Olympic winning streak to 32 games. They face Australia in Saturday's gold-medal game. One more victory and a fourth straight Olympic gold medal returns to America.

"We knew there was going to come a point in this game where one team was going to break," Taurasi said. "We sustained it longer."

Tina Thompson's 15 points also sparked the U.S., which overcame a seven-point, first-half deficit. Don't let the final score fool you: The victory marked the Americans' most difficult test thus far, a defense-oriented muckfest.

The subplot of South Dakota native Becky Hammon playing for Russia didn't turn into much. The naturalized Russian citizen got trapped by a swarming U.S. defense throughout and managed just three points.

Russia is one of the few teams in the tournament with the size to challenge Team USA inside. With Maria Stepanova scoring 14 points mostly against Lisa Leslie and Russia piling up a 38-24 advantage in points in the paint, U.S. players knew their average margin of victory of 43.2 points from their first six victories wouldn't be matched.

"We knew a tough game was coming," Taurasi said. "You get a sense that the Olympics are easy just because you win the early games by a lot of points. Once you get to this point, there are no bad teams. We handled it."

Taurasi and Thompson sparked a 12-0 third-quarter run that turned the game.

"Diana was hitting her shots, picking us up on defense," forward Tamika Catchings said. "She played the most focused of all of us. She kept telling us to relax. It's not like her to tell us to stay relaxed. Usually she's the one trying to play football on the basketball court."

Physicality will be needed to match up with Australia in a repeat of the 2004 Athens Olympics gold-medal game. With size and skill in players like Suzy Batkovic and Penny Taylor, Team USA knows another gold medal won't come easily.

"Australia is a physical team," Catchings said. "We want to finish in style."

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