U.S. Women Out to Prove Who’s Best in Basketball
Aug. 1, 2008
The unofficial motto for the U.S. men’s basketball team for this year’s Summer Olympic Games is “Road to Redemption.”
But it isn’t the only group of American basketballers that feels it has something to prove in Beijing.
Although they are ranked No. 1 in the world, are the three-time defending Olympic gold medalists and are 50-1 in Olympic and world championship competition since 1996, the U.S. women will also be playing with a sizable chip on their shoulders.
“We definitely should be,” Mercury guard Diana Taurasi said before departing for Beijing (they arrived in China on Friday).
“I keep talking about (the 2006 world championships in) Brazil. We got beat. We’re not the world champions.
“The ranking, that’s all mumbo jumbo. We have to get that gold medal back.”
The lone blemish on the senior national team’s record in major international play in the past 12 years came at the hands of Russia in the semifinals of the ’06 world championships, costing Team USA a shot at gold. It ended up taking home bronze while Australia earned gold and Russia silver.
“That game was a combination of them playing really well — they played an amazing game — and we were a little off and didn’t know how to combat that,” Taurasi said of the 75-68 loss. “It was a learning experience for us, which was good.”
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“We’re out to get this one thing and that’s the gold medal,” said Mercury guard Cappie Pondexter, who will be joining her backcourt mate and playing in her first Olympics. Taurasi is making her second Olympic appearance.
Australia and Russia are once again expected to present the toughest competition. While those two teams’ style of play differs — “Russia, they’re a very physical team. Australia, they’re more of a finesse team,” Pondexter said — they share a common advantage over the Americans.
Unlike the entire 12-member roster of Team USA that has spent the past 2 1/2 months playing in the WNBA, most, if not all, the players for Australia and Russia, and every other nation for that matter, have spent that time practicing together.
“That’s always been the thing that is our weakness,” Taurasi said. “We don’t have time to prepare. We basically get three days of training together and other teams have been training for the past two months. ... But our strength is we’ve always come together as a team very quickly.”
The good news for the Americans is there is some room for error in the preliminary round. They won’t have to face Australia or Russia until the quarterfinals at the earliest, and they should be able to beat every other team in their pool on talent alone. Spain, which is ranked fifth in the world, is the next toughest team in Group B.
Any meeting with Australia or Russia will be accompanied with plenty of familiarity for Taurasi and Pondexter. The Aussies’ roster includes seven players with WNBA experience, including Penny Taylor and Belinda Snell, who have played for the Mercury and are expected to return next season. The Russians have two WNBA players, including former Phoenix center Maria Stepanova.
Don’t expect any celebratory reunions, though, until after the competition is complete.
“I have the utmost respect for every team that’s going to be there,” Pondexter said, “but at the same time, we don’t have any friends.”
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