USA Senior Women Reign Over Spain 77-61 In Final Exhibition Contest
August 9, 2004 Salamanca, Spain
The 2004 USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team (16-0) closed out its pre-Olympic exhibition schedule with a 77-61 victory over host and 2004 Olympic competitor Spain on Monday night. Behind a team high 14 points from Swin Cash (Detroit Shock) and a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds from Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks), the U.S. earned the championship at the Spanish-hosted 2004 International Invitational. Played at Sanchez Paraiso Arena in Salamanca, France defeated Poland 74-58 in tonight's earlier consolation game.
The United States will remain in Salamanca and practice on Aug. 10 at 10:00 a.m. (all times local) before traveling to Athens for two final practices, Aug. 12 at 11:00 a.m. at Helliniko Indoor Arena and Aug. 13 at 12:00 p.m. at the American College of Greece. The U.S. will then begin defending its gold medal in a 2:30 p.m. tip-off against New Zealand on Aug. 14.
"The number one thing that's concerned me since day one when we put this team together is getting them used to each other," said USA and Houston Comets head coach Van Chancellor, whose USA Basketball record now stands at 29-0. "We're playing so many combinations out there. What has really hurt us is that we've had two starters, Katie (Smith) and Sheryl (Swoopes), hurt. And then we have Pee Wee (Shannon Johnson), who is not at full speed. Therefore I can't get any cohesiveness out there. In spurts we played really well. We just have to learn to be focused for 40 minutes."
The U.S. again got off to a slow start and found itself on the tail end of the first quarter's 18-17 scoreboard. Tina Thompson (Houston Comets) scored seven of her nine first half points in the first 10 minutes of play to keep the USA, which was plagued by six turnovers during that span, in the mix. The Americans also had a difficult time finding the bottom of the net (6-18 FGs), with several shots spinning around the steel and bouncing out.
Coming out strong on both ends of the floor in the second stanza, the United States put together a 9-0 run to pull ahead 26-18 at 6:11. Upping its lead to 11, 33-22, following a Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) 3-pointer at 3:08, it looked like the U.S. was ready to run away with the contest. But Spain would not go away and scored seven of the game's next nine points and at 1:32 the USA's lead had dwindled to 35-29. However, the U.S. received four points from Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets) as it closed out the half with a 6-0 spurt to take a 41-29 advantage into the locker room. Marta Fernandez, who finished with a game high 18 points, scored eight of her squad's 11 second quarter points.
"We knew that (Marta Fernandez) could shoot the ball very well," said Leslie. "She was able to penetrate to the basket. We did not do a good job of defending, but the good thing is that we have another opportunity to play against Spain (in the Olympics). We'll make sure she doesn't do the same thing next time."
Keeping the pressure up on the defensive end and receiving five points from Swoopes, the American Women pushed their margin to 50-31 in the first 4:04 of the third quarter. Neither team scored more than four points in succession and at the end of three periods the U.S. retained a 61-46 upper hand.
Not wanting to disappoint their fans, the Spaniards would not be quieted. Attempting a comeback, Spain outscored the USA 11-6 and with 5:35 to play, the lead had dwindled to 67-57. The crowd was back in the game, but it was not much help. The United States' depth was too much for the Spanish squad and the U.S. finished the contest on a 10-4 run for the eventual 77-61 victory.
"You know, whenever you talk about a team that qualified for the Olympics, you're playing a good team," said Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury). "Especially playing at home with the crowd, and you're going to get most of the calls playing at home. I think they played us tough for most of the game. In the end our athleticism and size just took over."
In addition to Cash and Leslie's contributions, the United States was aided by 11 points apiece from Yolanda Griffith (Sacramento Monarchs), Swoopes and Thompson. Leslie also notched four steals and three blocked shots, while Dawn Staley (Charlotte Sting) had four assists.
Fernandez and Elisabeth Cebrian, who collected 17 points, were Spain's offensive threats. Former WNBA Houston Comet Amaya Valdemoro, who earned 2002 FIBA All-World Championship Team honors, is injured and did not compete.
Outrebounding Spain 40-23, the U.S. committed fewer turnovers (14) than its opponents (17). Neither team shot particularly well, with Spain shooting 44.0 percent (22-50 FGs) from the field and the U.S. even lower at 42.2 percent (27-64 FGs).
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.