Leading up to the 2012 London Olympic Games veteran forward Swin Cash felt that Team USA had one big advantage over the competition: depth.
"Obviously we have a very talented roster, the most talented roster in the tournament," said the Chicago Sky forward. "But on any given day, another team's one through five players can just play lights out, have an incredible game. That happens in sports. So, it's possible that one through five we may get tested at some point. But then, when you get to six through 12, we have such talented players coming in off the bench, that I think teams won't be able to keep up, if we focus and play our game. That six through 12 is going to be a problem for teams."
Cash's words proved prescient when the U.S. National Team opened its attempt to secure an unprecedented fifth straight team gold medal against Croatia on Saturday, as the Croats battled USA to a 36-36 stand-still midway through the third quarter. But over the next seven minutes, the USA pulled away for an 11-point lead, sparked by key players among the six-through-12 cohort, that in effect iced the game.
Atlanta Dream gunner Angel McCoughtry was at the vanguard of the game-breaking run, scoring 12 points during the seven-minute stretch, ably assisted by fellow super-subs Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Swin Cash, who each scored a field goal during the rally. Croatia was unable to respond and the USA squad ultimately cruised to a comfortable 81-56 Preliminary Round victory, that was actually in the balance prior to McCoughtry and Company's game-clinching contribution.
After the game, USA Head Coach Geno Auriemma was quick to credit the second unit.
"We have 10 or 11 players that can come off the bench or start and I think that may have been the difference," said Auriemma. "I think the Croatia team might have got a little bit tired towards the end of the game because they dont have the depth that we do. Its one of the advantages of the United States. We have good players but we have more of them. Tonight I thought that was the difference in the game."
Auriemma had particularly high praise for McCoughtry, who was appearing in her first Olympic game.
"Angels a fantastic defender especially off the ball. So she makes things happen. That second team we had out there was able to not only give us energy which they did but I think they made it difficult (for Croatia)," said Auriemma. " Angel was a big, big part of that. Shes one of the quickest players in the world. When shes going to the basket or shes on defense in the passing lanes, there arent very many people better than her."
McCoughtry hasn't carried her Dream teammates to two straight Eastern Conference titles by blending in the background, but she's more than happy to take her chances with Team USA when she gets them in order to help bring home the gold.
"Honestly, in my head, Im just hungry," said McCoughtry, who finished the game with 13 points, three rebounds and three steals in a highly-efficient 11 minutes on the court. "When I get out there, whether it's five minutes, 230 minutes, Im going to give it all I can. Of course were all used to playing a lot of minutes with our teams, were all used to all doing what we do best, but this is a different situation, so whatever opportunity to get you can not take it for granted, you just have to be hungry out their. I really just enjoyed my first Olympic game, it was a lot of fun."
And as long as McCoughtry and the rest of the six-through-12 gang keep producing like they did against Croatia, beginning with today's game against Angola, Team USA will be tough to beat.