U.S. Women Follow Winning Script to Finish Pool Play

Smith scored eight of her 13 points in the third quarter.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
BEIJING, August 17, 2008 -- The U.S. Women's Senior National Team heads into the elimination rounds of the 2008 Olympics unbeaten and unchallenged, thanks to a 96-60 drubbing of New Zealand on Sunday night.

The U.S. won their five pool play games by an average of 43.0 points, and Sunday's win followed a similar script to the four previous: An outmatched team hits a few shots early and keeps the game close for the first few minutes, but eventually falls victim to the Americans' superior depth, athleticism and skill.

New Zealand, who had already been eliminated from the possibility of advancing to the quarterfinals, led 15-14 with two and a half minutes to go in the first quarter. At that point, Tamika Catchings gave the U.S. the lead for good with a three from the corner off a Sylvia Fowles post kickout. Catchings then stole the ball on the other end and fed Candace Parker, who was intentionally fouled on the break. After Parker hit her free throws and assisted on a Sylvia Fowles layup, the U.S. was up six, never to be threatened again.

That's because they thoroughly dominated the second quarter, allowing New Zealand to score just six points in the period. The Tall Ferns shot just 3-for-12 while turning the ball over seven times in the second. After getting a couple of buckets early in the period, New Zealand went 12 straight possessions without a score, and the U.S. went on a 21-0 run before Jillian Harmon hit a baseline jumper at the buzzer to end the drought. Still, with the teams heading into their locker rooms, the U.S. had more than doubled New Zealand up, 50-24.

"Our biggest things are not only us getting runs," Katie Smith said, "but limiting their runs to a couple of buckets or not letting them get that momentum. It's big for us to get those kind of cushions, but also not allowing them to cut into a lead."

And that was never a worry. The second half was more of the same, with New Zealand turning the ball over another seven times in the third and the U.S. leading by as many as 39 points in the fourth.

Tina Thompson once again led a balanced U.S. offense with 15 points on 7-of-13 from the field. Katie Smith was in rhythm from the outside, scoring 13 points, and Seimone Augustus and Catchings were each in double-figures as well. Catchings was also her usual menacing self on defense, picking up three of the U.S. Team's 10 steals.

Now, the U.S. gets down to business, with the elimination rounds beginning Tuesday night with a matchup against South Korea, who finished fourth in Group A with a 2-3 record. After that, the U.S. will likely face Becky Hammon and Russia (4-1) in the semifinals on Thursday. And if the U.S. gets through Russia, they should find Australia, the only other unbeaten team in the competition, in the gold medal game on Saturday, Aug. 23.

"The competition is going to get a lot stronger from this point on," Thompson said after the game. "It's one and done. But that's why we play at the level that we played throughout the pool play to get to this point."

They were probably ready for the quarterfinals a few days ago, but before the U.S. moved on to the one-and-done portion of the competition, they had to complete a perfect round of preliminary action. It wasn't much of a test, but it was on the schedule and hey, everyone stayed healthy.

"All we can do is play who they put in front of us in pool play," Kara Lawson said, "and that's what we did and we tried to improve and get better."

"I think as a team we're moving forward," Catchings said, "and we're ready to start focusing on our next opponent, South Korea and getting ready for them."

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