U.S. Women Advance to Semis With Big Second Quarter, Big Second Unit

Korea had no answer for Fowles on Tuesday.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
BEIJING, August 19, 2008 -- The U.S. Senior Women's National Team advanced to the Olympics semifinal the same way they breezed through pool play: with defense and very comfortably.

The U.S. blew out South Korea 104-60 at the Wukesong Culture and Sports Center Tuesday night, and they'll face Russia in the semifinals Thursday.

Like many of the U.S. Team's pool play opponents, South Korea hung around for a while, leading 19-18 with less than two minutes to go in the first quarter. But after the U.S. took a four-point lead at the end of the first, they held South Korea to just nine points in the second, opening the game up and leading by 21 at the break.

It was their second unit (Kara Lawson, Seimone Augustus, Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles) that started the run, scoring on eight of their first nine possessions of the second, while allowing South Korea to score on just two of their first 10.

"From the starting five that goes out to the rest of us who come off the bench," Catchings said after the game, "it's like the energy never goes away. If anything, it picks up."

"We feel like we can bring our second wave of players," Lawson added, "and a lot of times that's when game breaks open. It's not always because the first five aren't doing a great job, it's because that's when fatigue sets in for another team. Sometimes it's the first quarter, our starters go hard for six, seven minutes and then the other team's starters start to wear a little bit. Then we come in with fresh bodies that are just as good as the players we took out, and now all of a sudden we're able to stretch the lead out a little bit."

And on Tuesday, by the time the starters returned to the floor, the game was already in complete control. But the first unit continued the defensive dominance in the third, with South Korea scoring just another nine points in the period and the U.S. making this one look just like their previous five blowouts.

In addition to their defense, the U.S. Team's size was a determining factor against their much smaller opponents. Before the game, U.S. assistant coach Dawn Staley noted South Korea's lack of true bigs.

"They don't have any of the height that we have," Staley said, "so I think our post players should be able to take advantage of their height and their strength on the inside."

They did indeed. Starting center Lisa Leslie was in foul trouble most of the night, but still managed to score 10 points and grab five rebounds in just 14 minutes. And Fowles came off the bench and thoroughly dominated her smaller opponents to the tune of 26 points, 14 boards (eight offensive) and two blocks.

If you didn't catch Fowles playing high school ball in Miami, this is probably what it looked like. If she was near the basket, she was getting the rebound. And when the Korean players fouled her in an attempt to prevent the follow, it was like a fly fouling a house.

"She'd get the ball in the middle of three or four people," Catchings said, "and she was able to put the ball up with ease."

Overall, the U.S. outrebounded South Korea 50-24 and outscored them 66-28 in the paint. They grabbed 17 offensive boards total, resulting in 22 second chance points.

Next up is Becky Hammon and Russia, who came back to beat Spain 84-65 in their quarterfinal late Tuesday night. It's a rematch of the semifinals of the 2006 World Championships, which Russia won 75-68.

"We didn't shoot the ball well," Katie Smith said of the '06 loss, "we didn't talk on the defensive end and Russia played well."

"[That game] is what fuels us," Sue Bird admitted Tuesday. "I know maybe only half the [U.S.] team was there, but that's enough."

And playing as the Unified Team, Russia is also the last team to beat the U.S. Women in the Olympics, defeating them 79-73 in the semifinals in 1992 in Barcelona. Since then, the U.S. has a 31-game winning streak in Olympic competition.

The U.S. beat Russia by 35 two weeks ago at the Diamond Ball tournament in Haining. But that result won't mean anything come Thursday. Nor will the results of tournaments past.

On Thursday, it's just 40 minutes of basketball for the chance to play for gold.

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