Olympic Preview: Women's basketball
The U.S. women's basketball team dominated the Beijing Games, winning by close to 38 points per game while cruising to the gold medal.
And this group could be even better.
"We have an opportunity to have one of the greatest Olympic teams all time given the combination of players we have with the depth, experience and youth," coach Geno Auriemma said. "I have tremendous respect for every team we're playing over there and by no means will this be easy at all. I'm focused on trying to make this team maximize the unbelievable potential they have."
It might be difficult for Auriemma to improve on the United States' recent success. With half the roster made up of his own Connecticut Huskies, they'll at least be ready for his style.
The Americans have won four straight gold medals and 33 consecutive games in the Olympics. Much of the current roster is in its prime now, making it even more likely Auriemma and Co. could reduce the Olympic tournament to a competition for silver.
"This is the first time that it's their time. The last group of veterans was so great with Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson and Katie Smith and all those guys who played before like Dawn Staley," Auriemma said. "This is a new era. Their time is now and I want to help them capture this moment."
The U.S. is led by Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings, who are all trying for a third straight gold medal. Taurasi and Bird starred for Auriemma at Connecticut, helping the school win three consecutive NCAA titles from 2002-04.
Joining the trio is a wealth of talent, headlined by Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus. The three all won gold medals in Beijing. Swin Cash also has an Olympic gold medal on her resume, winning one in 2004.
Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Tina Charles, Asjha Jones and Angel McCoughtry will be making their first appearance in the Olympics. All five of the newcomers were part of the team that won the 2010 world championship to secure a spot in London.
The biggest problem for the Americans heading into the Summer Games happened off the court, where an employment discrimination lawsuit was filed against Auriemma, the NBA and USA Basketball on June 11 by a woman who works as an NBA security official. Kelley Hardwick said she was removed from a 2012 Olympics assignment after she spurned an advance from Auriemma.
The coach has called the claim "beyond false" and intends to fight it. The U.S. players don't expect it to be a distraction in London.
"I think because we have great leadership on this team that we're just going to focus on the task that will be at hand and that's to prepare to win a gold medal," Cash said. "You never want to let outside distractions interfere with that and I think that we'll have the right leadership to make sure that everybody comes to play and is ready to go in London."
While Auriemma thinks this could be the best American team ever, Taurasi is just hoping for some well-deserved respect.
"The men's team that won gold in 2008 had the mantra of 'road to redemption.' We're on the road to respect," she said. "A team that's won four gold medals in a row and we're still fighting for respect in our own country. I think it's a little sad. That's a motivator for all of us in that gym. Our level is so high that it becomes normal. Even to the public, they think we should win the gold medal and if we don't, it's shocking."
Standing in the way of the Americans' fifth straight gold is perennial runner-up Australia, which has lost the gold medal game at the last three Olympics. The Australians will be missing star Penny Taylor, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in early April while playing for Turkish club Fenerbahce, where she was averaging more than 19 points a game.
They still have Lauren Jackson, who has competed in the last three Olympics. This time she decided not to play for the first three months of the WNBA season and instead train with her teammates for the London Games. Jackson is trying to add the one thing missing from her incredible basketball resume — an Olympic gold medal.
While the Australians and many other teams have been training for months, the Americans have only been together for a short period. They had a three-day training camp in Seattle in May and then will spend two weeks together before Olympic pool play begins on July 28.
"We know we have limited time to train, but that's the nature of this team," Catchings said. "Because of the WNBA and overseas commitments we'll never be able to get everyone together for a long period."
The Americans and Australians are in different pools and most likely wouldn't meet until the medal rounds. The biggest game of the preliminary rounds could be between Australia and Russia, with the winner likely avoiding the Americans until the gold medal game.
Becky Hammon is once again playing for Russia. She created a stir in 2008 when she first played for them in the Beijing Olympics. The South Dakota-born star became a Russian citizen and under FIBA rules was allowed to compete for the country. She helped guide that team to a bronze medal. She expects a lot less fanfare this time around.
"It's old news," Hammon said about her decision to play for Russia. "I played with them in the world championship, European championship, hopefully I'll enjoy it a lot more. By far it was one of the best decisions I ever made and I stand by that, and really look forward to doing it again."
Associated Press medal projection:
- Gold: United States
- Silver: Australia
- Bronze: Russia