USA Shakes Off Early Jitters, Pulls Away From Croatia 81-56
-- Four U.S. Players Reach Double-Figures, Led By 14 Points, 10 Rebounds From Tina Charles --
London, England • July 28, 2012
A 16-0 run in the fourth quarter helped the 2012 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team (1-0) erase its shooting woes and finally put away Croatia (0-1) for an 81-56 win in its first game of the 2012 Olympics at the Olympic Park Basketball Arena on Saturday afternoon in London, England.
Tina Charles (Connecticut Sun) scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream) added 13 points and collected three steals, Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds and Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) rounded out the USA’s double-digit scorers with 10 points.
“Playing in the Olympics is completely different than playing in any other competition,” said Geno Auriemma, USA and University of Connecticut head coach. “We had an opportunity at the beginning of the game when Croatia had a very difficult time scoring. We had an opportunity there to really open a big lead and we didn’t take advantage of that. Like a good team, Croatia came back and actually ended up taking the lead against us. I think that’s to be expected at these games. You don’t go into any game thinking you’re (going to win because you’re) the United States or just because you’re ranked No. 1 in the world and somebody else isn’t. So, we’re not surprised at all by how well Croatia played. We’re not surprised at all about the fact that it was a close game for 30-some minutes. But, we got better as the game went on.”
The USA struggled from the field in the win, shooting 44.4 percent (32-72 FGs), as did Croatia, which shot just 33.3 percent for the game (23-69 FGs). The USA’s size and strength was a great advantage as the Americans outrebounded Croatia 57-32, compiled 46 points in the paint to Croatia’s 24 and tallied 27 second-chance points to Croatia’s eight.
“I know we definitely were trying to play an inside-out game,” Charles said. “Sylvia (Fowles), Candace and I need to do a better job of finishing around the basket but Coach definitely wanted us to point an emphasis on getting the ball inside and executing plays, just trying to limit turnovers and get on the offensive boards.”
While the USA opened an icy 5-of-16 from the field (.313) in the first quarter, Croatia made just 2-of-19 (.105) of its shots, and the USA held Croatia scoreless for the first eight minutes. With a free throw from Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx) at 3:35, the USA led 9-0, and after two scores in the last two minutes from Croatia, the score was 11-4 at the first break.
The U.S. lead reached 12 points, 19-7, after Parker scored an offensive rebound at 8:00 in the second period. From there, however, Croatia launched a 14-0 run, its largest of the game, that included three 3-pointers to take a 23-21 lead at 4:43. Catchings pulled up for two points to end the onslaught, and then Taurasi sank back-to-back 3-pointers to put the USA ahead 29-26. The three-point margin lasted through to the halftime buzzer, and the USA headed to the locker room leading 31-28.
The shooting improved in the second – to 45.0 percent (9-20 FGs) for the USA, while Croatia heated up to 50.0 percent (9-18 FGs) in the second 10 minutes.
“I think for us, the jitters of finally getting here, for both sides it’s the first game, the first opportunity to get out there,” Catchings said. “There are a lot of people in the stands. But over time we got better, and we were able to overcome the hump we started off with.”
Croatia fought back to tie the score 36-36 at 5:50, but the USA responded with a 5-0 run, and by the time Croatia called a timeout at 4:21, the USA led 41-36. Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx) scored six of the USA’s next 12 points to help the USA lead by six points, 53-47, after three quarters.
Early in the fourth quarter, the USA captured control of the game. After Croatia opened with a basket, the USA launched its largest spurt, a 16-0 onslaught that began with an offensive rebound from Moore and included six diffferent U.S. scorers. During the run, Auriemma changed his entire side at 7:20 to help wear out the opponent, capitalizing on the USA’s depth. A three-point play from Catchings put the USA up 69-49 at 5:58, and Croatia never again threatened.
“We just came up with the energy,” Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky) said of the USA’s fourth quarter. “Coach stressed to go out there and pressure the ball a little bit more, get after them. It kind of soaked into everybody, so everybody stepped on the court and really focused on doing what he said.”
Shooting 5-of-9 from 3-point, Croatia’s Jelena Ivezic led her side with 22 points, while Marija Vrsaljko added 19 points. The contest was Croatia’s first women’s basketball game in Olympic history.
Also today in preliminary round Group A, China (1-0) topped Czech Republic (0-1) 66-57, and Turkey (1-0) routed Angola (0-1) 72-50. In Group B, Russia (1-0) edged Canada (0-1) 58-53, France (1-0) pulled away from Brail (0-1) 73-58 and Australia faces Great Britain at 10:15 p.m. (5:15 p.m. EDT).
The USA next will take on Angola at 10:15 p.m. (5:15 p.m. EDT) on July 30, before a rematch against Turkey, which the U.S. beat 80-61 in exhibition on July 22, at 10:15 p.m. (5:15 p.m. EDT) on Aug. 1. The Americans will then face Czech Republic at 10:15 p.m. (5:15 EDT) on Aug. 3 and then wrap up preliminary round play against China 4:45 p.m. (10:45 a.m. EDT) on Aug. 5.
Auriemma is assisted by DePaul University’s Doug Bruno, Jennifer Gillom of the Washington Mystics and Marynell Meadors of the Atlanta Dream.