LONDON – The long-reigning U.S. women’s basketball team shifted into high gear on Sunday as they extended their Olympic winning streak to 38 games with a 114-66 thrashing of China that established the line-up for Tuesday’s quarter-finals.
With the knockout phase of the tournament coming up next, the U.S. team went full throttle on offence and tied their national Olympic team record for most points in a game.
U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said the attacking tactics were necessary to counter the Chinese. “It’s hard for us to play defence against them. Their three-point shooting and their quickness is a problem for everybody.
“We have to just outscore some teams. Some teams, you’re going to beat them just because you’re going to be able to shut them down.”
Auriemma turned to his former University of Connecticut player Diana Taurasi, who led UConn’s Lady Huskies to three national college titles in a row, to lead the charge.
The Americans, who won the last four Olympics and have now scored a perfect 5-0 in their group games in London, ran wild after China (3-2) traded blow for blow with them in a fast-paced first quarter to trail by only 31-28.
Defensive pressure began to rattle the Chinese and the U.S. team were off to the races, going on an 18-4 run to start the second quarter. They did not stop there, however, outscoring China 30-8 in the quarter for a 61-36 lead at intermission.
Taurasi had 22 points for U.S. scoring honours.
Chen Nan scored 16 points to lead China, who would have leapfrogged the U.S. and become top seed in Group A with a victory.
“I think Diana understands more than anybody I’ve ever been around what the big stage is, when the lights are the brightest, when the games mean the most,” Auriemma said. “Today’s game against China was to win our pool and that’s when Diana is at her best.”
Taurasi was a twin threat, sinking 4-of-5 shots from beyond the three-point line when she wasn’t slashing her way to the hoop on aggressive drives.
“Sometimes you play a game and things are off a little bit, but today I felt we were playing a little bit better. We were in a little bit better of a flow and that carried on for 40 minutes,” Taurasi said.
After making 8-of-10 shots in all, playing a bit more than half the game, Taurasi said she was just following orders. “When I was open, I was under strict orders to shoot.”
China coach Sun Fengwu had a pithy analysis of the game.
“Overall speaking, the U.S. is the top of the world,” he said through an interpreter.
Earlier, Australia (4-1) held off Canada (2-3) 72-63 and France (5-0) beat Russia (3-2) 65-54 to settle the order of finish in Group B.
The U.S. will play Canada, and France face the Czech Republic in the top seed vs fourth seed match-ups in the quarters. Australia play China, and Russia meet Turkey in the other matches.
Australia, silver medallists at the last three Olympics after losing the gold medal games to the U.S., would face the Americans in the semi-finals in London if both teams win their quarter-final games.