U.S. women finish with the formalities 105-64 rout of S. Korea ends preliminary round

Atlanta Olympics

July 30, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The preliminary round is over and nothing has changed. The U.S. women's basketball team is invincible until proven otherwise, and nothing that happened in yesterday's 105-64 victory over South Korea did anything to alter that perception.

"Now it gets fun," said U.S. forward Katy Steding, "not that it hasn't been fun already, but now we're going to start playing against the best teams."

Now, the U.S. women move into the quarterfinals, and -- just maybe -- find somebody to put them to the test. The South Koreans did that for 20 minutes, staying surprisingly close until the second half began, only to wilt like a fragile flower when the Americans finally decided to play defense.

In keeping with the original spirit of the Olympics, the first half was a track meet, with the U.S. team reeling off 60 points, then getting a halftime lecture from coach Tara VanDerveer because the South Koreans almost kept up. The score was 60-50 at halftime, but the American team went on a 32-7 run and -- like Olympic star Michael Johnson a few miles away -- never looked back.

"We didn't really go out in the first half and play our game," said center Lisa Leslie, who had 14 points and eight rebounds. "We were just letting people shoot. We really clamped down in the second half."

The preliminary round was almost too easy. The American team went 5-0 and overpowered the opposition so completely that it was easy to draw parallels with the Dream Team. The women have been playing before large, raucous crowds at the Georgia Dome, and they play an unselfish, team-oriented style that is endearing them to a whole new generation of young basketball fans.

There was even a young boy in the crowd wearing a T-shirt honoring Atlanta-born guard and four-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, attesting that women's basketball, at least at the Olympics, has become more than a single-gender attraction.

"We've been getting that response from the crowd and we're really happy about that," Leslie said. "It's basketball. It's supposed to be exciting. We're happy people who have never seen women's basketball are seeing us and saying, 'Hey, these women can play.' "

The gold medal may be a formality, but the Americans, who face China (2-3) in the quarterfinals tomorrow, must guard against taking it for granted.

The Russian team finished its preliminary round-robin with a 4-1 record and only lost by one point in the last game of the Americans' 52-game pre-Olympic tour. Brazil (5-0) defeated an American team in the semifinals of the 1994 World Championships. And Australia (3-2), which kept Saturday's game close for 30 minutes, could once again be an opponent, this time for a gold medal.

"The important thing is, we go into the medal round with a lot of confidence," Steding said. "There are tough teams in the other bracket. We haven't played Brazil or Japan yet, so we want to be very well-prepared."

Leslie was asked after yesterday's rout whether she had any doubt that the American team would be in the gold-medal game.

"No," she said, and left it at that.

Olympic updates

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Pub Date: 7/30/96

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