BEIJING, August 9, 2008 -- After a bit of a slow start, the U.S. Women's Senior National Team turned up the pressure and cruised to a 97-57 victory over the Czech Republic Saturday in their opening game at the 2008 Olympics.
The U.S. went more than four minutes without a bucket to start the game, missing their first six shots. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic looked sharp early on, jumping out to an 8-0 lead. Diana Taurasi finally broke the seal on the U.S. hoop with a runner off glass with 6:35 to go in the first, but the Czechs kept coming, scoring on six straight possessions at one point to go up 13-2.
The U.S. knew that getting back in the game started on defense, but in order to play the pressure D that they wanted to, they needed to put the ball in the basket first.
Sometimes, offense can lead to defense.
"Basketball's like that," Sue Bird said after that game. "You never know what comes first."
And with Taurasi and Tina Thompson leading the way on the offensive end, the U.S. turned the game around quickly in that first quarter. They finished the period on a 20-4 run, as the Czech Republic went scoreless on their final nine possessions of the period, including a span of six possessions where they turned the ball over five times.
"We fought it out," Katie Smith said, "got our energy up, got our defense rolling and did the things we needed to do to give ourselves some space."
The U.S. pressure did not stop after that. Stopping the Czechs on 14 of their 20 possessions in the second quarter, they took their lead from five to 19. Along the way, the women from the Czech Republic looked worn out and frustrated by their inability to get good shots, or even get the ball across midcourt at times.
"Once we did turn it up defensively, started pressing and getting after it," Bird said, "immediately you could see how tired the other team got. And they couldn't keep up."
The game was essentially over even before the Czechs turned the ball over another eight times in the third period. After their run of six straight scores early in the first, the Czech Republic scored on just 14 of their next 60 possessions. For the game, they shot just 36 percent from the field, while committing 27 turnovers.
Taurasi led all scorers with 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting, but it was a WNBA rookie that came up biggest in her first Olympic game. Sylvia Fowles scored 16 points off the bench on 7-of-9 from the floor, while grabbing a game-high 14 boards and blocking two shots.
"She's a beast," Bird said of the second youngest player on the team. "And when she gets it going like that, you just gotta keep getting her the ball and let her do what she does. If she misses, she's getting her own rebound. She's pretty impressive."
But the win was a team effort more than anything. Coach Anne Donovan subbed early and often, with no player logging more than 24 minutes. The defense came in swarms with seven different ladies on the U.S. team picking up at least one steal.
"More than anything," Bird said, "our depth is going to be key for us this entire trip. And you saw it tonight."
"Everybody contributed," Smith added, "everybody had a part in it and it was fun to see that."
So, despite the first five minutes, the first game in Beijing was something to build on.
"Tonight's game was a good start," Bird said, "but we play China next, and I'm sure it's gonna be crazy in that arena. And not only that, they're very good. So, we can't sleep on them. We have to be focused. But all we need to work on is getting more and more comfortable."