U.S. women's team crawls to morning-after victory

Olympic favorites less than dazzling in win vs. Croatia to begin pool play


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LONDON -- The U.S. women's basketball team looked nothing like the squad that is expected to dominate the Olympics.

Maybe it was first-game nerves or a hangover from the opening ceremonies. The U.S. women had to overcome a sloppy performance Saturday before finally putting away Croatia, 81-56, in their opener.

Coach Geno Auriemma had said he was hoping the Americans could play a style of basketball that would be entertaining and help grow the women's game internationally. That didn't happen.

"We have five players who have never been in the Olympics before so they are going to be nervous. Everybody was a little nervous," Auriemma said. "We're better than we showed, but I don't know that we're going to be great right off the bat."

The U.S. team, which got back to its hotel at 3 a.m. after the opening ceremonies, struggled for the first three quarters before winning its 34th consecutive Olympic contest.

"There was a little jitters, probably a little sluggishness," U.S. guard Sue Bird said. "For the most part we didn't finish off plays we normally finish off. We allowed a team that when they get going are known to spread out the floor and try to hit as many 3s as they can, stay with us."

The victory was far different than the 54-point pounding the Americans gave Croatia a week earlier.

Despite missing its first 14 shots, Croatia hung tough for the first 30 minutes before the Americans finally could pull away.

The U.S. team, which has dominated its opponents en route to the previous four gold-medal performances, led only, 53-49, early in the fourth quarter before a 16-0 run put the game out of reach.

"Bottom line is this is the Olympics," Bird said. "A win is a win, regardless of how it works. Beauty is you can learn from it. Now we know what we need to work on."

Angel McCoughtry started the burst with consecutive layups and Tamika Catchings capped it with a three-point play that made it 69-49. McKeesport's Swin Cash also had a three-point play in the spurt.

McCoughtry finished with 13 points. Tina Charles had 14 points and 10 rebounds; Candace Parker finished with 11 points and 13 boards.

Jelena Ivezic scored 22 points and Marija Vrsaljko added 19 for Croatia, which was making its Olympic debut. Vrsaljko missed the contest against the U.S. team because she was getting married.

Next up for the U.S. team is Angola, which lost to Turkey, 72-50, in its Olympic debut. The Americans w also ill face China, Turkey and the Czech Republic in pool play.

The Czechs lost their pool opener, 66-57, to China. Also early Saturday, Russia rallied past Canada, 58-53.

LOOKING AHEAD

• Game: Team USA vs. Angola in women's basketball as group play continues.

• When: 5:15 p.m. Monday.

• TV: NBC Sports Network.

• The skinny: McKeesport's Swin Cash had three points in five minutes for Team USA in its victory Saturday vs. Croatia.

olympics


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