Women's Hoops Catching Fire With British Fans

LONDON -- Women's basketball is making a good first impression on British fans at the London Games.

The Britons are newcomers on the basketball scene, but what they lack in knowledge they are more than making up in enthusiasm.

While the venue, like most others in the London Games, has had its share of empty seats, it would be tough to tell from noise the crowd generates. Each session in the 12,000-seat arena is averaging just over 8,500 fans.

"It's been awesome to see every single game, the energy, not just that the place is filled, but there is a great appreciation for women's basketball,'' said U.S. assistant coach Doug Bruno, who has seen the crowds while scouting the Americans' future opponents. "The crowd is really into it. Growing this game is a process we're working on back home, it's not a quick process but it's something everyone needs to work on.''

The U.S. plays the Czech Republic on Friday. The Americans are drawing more than 9,200 fans a game and should have another large turnout against the Czechs.

Coach Geno Auriemma said it isn't about the Americans, though.

"The support has been great,'' he said. "They've been very appreciative of all the teams.''

Coaches and players hope the world is taking notes. Fan support has been a longtime issue for women's basketball in the U.S., at the college and pro level.

"It's great for the sport,'' said San Antonio Silver Stars guard Becky Hammon, who is playing for Russia in the Olympics. "Especially since Britain isn't a hotbed for women's basketball. Hopefully this will get them excited. Hopefully the home basketball team can build off this and get some momentum.''

The Czechs know firsthand how important fan support can be.

In 2010 the Czech Republic was buoyed by its home fans to reach the gold medal game before losing to the U.S. by 20 points. The Czechs haven't been able to duplicate that run in the Olympics.

The Czechs (1-2) won their first game on Wednesday, beating Croatia 89-70.

"They're another team that struggled in the first two games and that was kind of a surprise,'' Auriemma said. "Against Croatia, they looked like the old Czech team. They went from down four to up 15 in no time. Their size and their guard play is pretty impressive. We need to keep getting better. If we keep getting better we'll be fine.''

After facing the U.S., the Czechs will play winless Angola on Sunday. The Americans have already clinched a spot in the quarterfinals; the Czechs still are trying to advance.

Auriemma gave his team a day off Thursday to mentally recovery from the long grind. They've played, practiced, or traveled every day since getting together for the first time on July 14.

"It's nice to just get a day to relax, sleep late,'' Candace Parker said. "I'll be going sightseeing with my family.''

The time off will also give center Sylvia Fowles another chance to rest her sore left foot. Fowles has not played in the past two games.

The break will probably be the last of the Olympics for the U.S. The Americans were on the move before arriving at the Olympics, too, going from Washington D.C. to Manchester, England, then to Istanbul.

"Any day off we've had is because we've been flying,'' Auriemma said. Thursday is "one of the first days they are going to do nothing. We'll come back Friday feeling great about ourselves.''

The U.S. will close out its pool play Sunday against China, which also is unbeaten so far.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press