French Fully Frustrated By USA Senior Women 68-38
August 8 , 2004 Salamanca, Spain
Continuing its winning ways, the 2004 USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team upped its exhibition record to 15-0 overall after seizing a 68-38 victory over France on Sunday night in Salamanca, Spain. Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks) and Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) paced the balanced U.S. attack against the French at Sanchez Paraiso Arena with 12 and 11 points, respectively. The United States, in its final exhibition contest before opening play in Athens on Aug. 14, will go up against Spain on Aug. 9 at 8:00 p.m. (all times local) in the championship contest of the 2004 Spanish International Tournament. Poland, which fell to Spain 87-53 in the evening's earlier game, will tip-off against France at 5:30 p.m. in the consolation game.
"We forced too many things. We had six turnovers less than four minutes, which is unbelievable," said USA and Houston Comets head coach Van Chancellor, whose USA Basketball record now stands at 28-0. "We're not used to playing with each other. We were playing all different combinations, we're missing two starters (Katie Smith, Sheryl Swoopes), I'm playing every single combination possible. We have to continue to work on it. If we had Katie and Sheryl healthy I think we could settle down. But we don't have them. It's just the results of three little old practices. We have to work and get a lot better."
Opening the game in uncharacteristic fashion, the United States gave up the ball to France in seven of its first nine possessions and in just over three minutes of play the French enjoyed a 10-5 lead. However, neither team could put anything of substance together and combined for 1-of-11 from the floor over the next four minutes. Tina Thompson (Houston Comets) stepped to the line at 3:29 and converted on both tries to close the deficit to 10-9. With 2:19 to play in the quarter Leslie took a pass inside from Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets) for a layup and the American women never again trailed. The USA, which shot 6of-14 (.429), but committed nine turnovers in the first 10 minutes of play, happily closed the book on the first quarter up 15-12.
"We tried to shake off the cobwebs and play hard," said Shannon Johnson (San Antonio Silver Stars). "We were working so hard to make sure everything worked. Sometimes we overpassed, we overdid things, but our hard work paid off later. We were getting those same shots, the same rebounds, we took care of it in the second half. We weren't tired, we were overpassing trying to find everybody. We were being unselfish. Sometimes you have to be selfish and just put the ball in the hole. We're so unselfish at times and that's what makes this team so good."
Chalk it up to jet lag, the stifling heat of the arena or wanting to make that extra pass instead of taking a shot. Whatever caused the U.S. to come out sluggish in the first quarter was quickly shaken off in the second 10 minutes of action. Reserve forwards Swin Cash (Detroit Shock) and Yolanda Griffith (Sacramento Monarchs) combined for eight points in a 10-3 spurt that jump-started their squad and gave the U.S. a 10-point pad (25-15) with 5:05 before the half. Off and running, the red, white and blue looked to six different players to score as it sprinted out on a 15-4 run to close the half with a commanding 40-19 upper hand.
"I'm not sure why we started out slow," said Bird, who arguably played her best game as a member of a USA Senior National Team tonight. "We're still getting to know each other. You never want to make excuses, but the more we get to know each other and play together the better it will get. We talked about that in the locker room, especially the turnovers. In the second half we wanted to come out and make a point. We know teams are going to look at these scores. Just like we hear about other teams, like China beat whoever and won, we hear about other scores and people are going to hear about this. We need to start right now going in the right direction going into the Olympics."
The defending Olympic gold medalists scored the first seven points in the second half and never looked back. Outscoring the French 15-6 in the third, the United States sailed home with the victory.
Holding France to 27.5 percent (14-51 FGs) shooting on the night, the U.S. converted on 44.8 percent (26-58 FGs) of its own. The Americans held a commanding advantage on the glass (38-16), but turned the ball over equally with France (19).
In addition to her 12 points, Leslie grabbed a game best nine rebounds and Griffith swiped six boards to go with her nine points. Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever), who finished with six points and five rebounds, was credited with a pair of blocked shots.
Sandra LeDrean notched a team high 12 points for France.
The U.S. was without the services of Katie Smith (Minnesota Lynx) who has a contusion on her right knee.
The United States will remain in Spain and practice on Aug. 10 at 11:00 a.m. before traveling to Athens for two final practices, Aug. 12 at 11:00 a.m. and Aug. 13 at 12:00 p.m. The U.S. will then tip-off it's 2004 Olympic competition against New Zealand at 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 14.
The U.S. capped a successful spring training schedule with an unblemished 13-0 record in its early preparations for Athens. Featuring three separate training sessions, the USA's competition ranged from national and professional club teams to the 2004 WBCA All-Star Team, with games played in six international arenas and four domestic cities. The three camps gave the coaching staff and USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team Committee a chance to see 10 U.S. candidates compete alongside the Senior National Team core group members in hope of securing one of the three remaining roster positions.
The USA owns a 34-3 overall record (.919 winning percentage) in Olympic competition and has won a record four golds, one silver and one bronze medal in the six previous Olympic basketball competitions in which the U.S. competed. The United States, which earned the silver medal at the inaugural Olympic women's basketball tournament in 1976, earned its first gold at the 84 Games in Los Angeles, collected gold again in Seoul in 88, and captured back-to-back golds with unblemished 8-0 records in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.