U.S. Women Still Looking for a Challenge

Leslie had no problems getting good looks down low on Wednesday.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
BEIJING, August 13, 2008 -- The U.S. Women's Senior National Team has yet to be tested at the 2008 Olympics, and it's likely that things will continue that way until at least the semifinals on Aug. 21.

Tonight, they mauled Mali 97-41 at the Wukesong Culture and Sports Center to move to 3-0, all alone atop the Group B standings. China looks to be the next best team in Group B, and the U.S. already beat them by 45.

As it looks now, the only challengers to the U.S. Team's dominance should be Australia, who the U.S. beat by just four last Tuesday at the Diamond Ball Tournament in Haining, and Russia, who the U.S. beat by 35 the day before. Both are 3-0 in Group A.

Just qualifying for the Olympics was a historical accomplishment for the Mali women. And they almost beat New Zealand in their opening game. But against the U.S., they were completely overmatched.

If Mali wasn't already at enough of a disadvantage, the team was without its best player, Hamchétou Maïga-Ba of the Houston Comets, who suffered a high ankle sprain in her team's loss to the Czech Republic on Monday. Without her, Maïga-Ba's teammates hung with the U.S. for about five minutes tonight. A long three-pointer from Aminata Sininta gave them an early 8-7 lead, forcing U.S. coach Anne Donovan to call a timeout with 5:34 left in the first quarter.

Donovan's team responded with a 17-4 run to end the period, with Kara Lawson coming off the bench to score two points and dish out three assists on the run. Mali scored on just two of its final 12 possessions of the first, and by the time the quarter ended, the U.S. had doubled them up, 24-12.

From there, the blowout continued. The score was 51-28 at the half, and Mali scored just 13 points, shooting 4-for-26 from the field, in the final 20 minutes. The final 56-point margin of victory probably would have been more if Mali hadn't gotten a couple of lucky bounces on desperate jumpers.

For the game, Mali shot just 25 percent from the field, and they turned the ball over 29 times. On the other end, the U.S. was efficient, shooting 62 percent with just 10 turnovers. Their front line of Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson, Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles had an easy time of establishing position down low.

Leslie led all scorers with 16 points, to go along with four boards and three blocks, on a perfect 7-for-7 from the field. Thompson and Parker were among four other U.S. women in double figures, and Lawson finished with seven dimes and three steals.

With the win, the U.S. has now won its three games in Beijing by an average of 47.0 points. And with just Spain and New Zealand left on the pool-play schedule, and a quarterfinal matchup against whomever finishes fourth in Group A, that average won't go down much anytime soon.

For now, the U.S. just keeps trying to improve with every game, so that when a challenge finally comes, the team will be ready.

John Schuhmann will be covering USA Basketball through the Beijing Olympics. Send him a question or comment.