Catchings Helps U.S. Women Shut Down Spain

Catchings put the clamps on Valdemoro.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
BEIJING, August 15, 2008 -- If Kobe Bryant can call himself the Doberman, than Tamika Catchings deserves to be called the Doberwoman.

Catchings was a defensive force Friday night in the U.S. Women's Senior National Team's 93-55 victory over Spain at the Wukesong Culture and Sports Center. The win puts the U.S. at 4-0 in Group B pool play with just one more game remaining (Sunday against New Zealand) before the quarterfinals on Tuesday.

After a 15-0 run gave the U.S. a 19-4 lead with two minutes to go in the first quarter, Spain called a timeout and came out of it firing. Anna Montaņana and Amaya Valdemoro each hit a pair of threes and Spain finished the quarter on a 13-3 run to close within five.

Spain then cut the U.S. lead to three on their first possession of the second quarter. Though that would be as close as they got, the two teams played even in the period and the U.S. lead was still just five at halftime.

The U.S. had held Spain to 35 percent shooting in the first half while forcing nine turnovers, but they knew that they could turn up the defense a notch.

"Defense was a big part of what we were talking about at halftime," Diana Taurasi said after the game.

And to start the third quarter, they held Spain scoreless on their first six possessions, forcing two straight turnovers with full court pressure. It was a 9-0 U.S. run to start the half and push the lead back up to 14.

Valdemoro ended the run with a pull-up on the baseline, and then hit a three from up top to get Spain going again. At that point, she had 17 of Spain's 39 points. So U.S. coach Anne Donovan sent in Catchings, the two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, who saw Valdemoro as her latest challenge.

"And I'm definitely very motivated by challenges," she admitted.

Late in the third, Valdemoro tried to pull up from the three point line, but Catchings was there to get a hand on the shot. Thanks to the defense from Catchings and her teammates, Spain was held to just 10 points in the period, and the U.S. was up 18 after three.

And if there was any doubt about the outcome after that, Catchings ended it early in the fourth.

On Spain's second possession of the period, Catchings knocked the ball out of a Spanish dribbler's hands, allowing Seimone Augustus to pick it up and take it the other way for two.

On Spain's next possession, Valdemoro drove and tried to pull up for a jumper at the foul line, but Catchings swatted the ball away.

On Spain's next possession after that, Catchings stepped in a passing lane for a deflection, and then saved the ball from going out of bounds and found Kara Lawson streaking to the basket for an easy layup.

And the play three possessions later typified Catchings' night: She knocked the ball out the hands of the Spanish ballhandler as she drove the lane. When it popped into the hands of another Spanish player, Catchings immediately blocked her shot. And with the ball heading out of bounds, Catchings saved it and threw it towards midcourt, where Augustus chased it down to give the U.S. possession.

Spain had turned the ball over three times in a six-possession span and Catchings was wholly responsible for all three. She had three steals and three blocks (though credited with just two) in the game, the leader of a defensive effort that held Spain to just 21 points on 6-of-21 shooting after halftime.

"Catchings was unbelievable," Lawson said. "What she brought, the loose balls, the blocks, the tips, the way she locked up Valdemoro, who had given us problems in that stretch, I felt she completely changed the game for us on the defensive end."

"That's what Catch does," Taurasi added. "She changes games without having to shoot, pass or dribble."

And that has been Catchings' focus since she was selected as one of the final three members of the U.S. Women's squad.

"The biggest thing for me is just doing what I can to help this team," Catchings said. "When I was chosen for this team, they said they want me to come out and bring my defensive intensity, and focus on that. So, that's pretty much what I've done. Defense has been the staple for me helping my team."

And her offense has been terrific as well. Catchings shot 4-for-5 Friday, finishing with nine points. She's shooting 12-for-15 (80 percent), including 3-for-4 from downtown, so far in Beijing.

"I've been working with a shooting coach the last year and a half," she said, "and it's finally paying off."

The combination of defensive tenacity and offensive versatility makes Catchings arguably the best all-around women's basketball player in the world.

And that's a nice asset to have coming off your bench.

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