U.S. routs Czech Republic, 80-61

Americans rebound after slow start as defense sparks easy win

Women's Basketball

Athens 2004

August 17, 2004|By Helene Elliott | Helene Elliott,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ATHENS - For Van Chancellor, the positive aspect of coaching so many smart, experienced players on the U.S. women's Olympic team is that they often act like coaches on the floor.

They also act like coaches in the locker room and during timeouts, never hesitating to offer suggestions.

"Sometimes, at halftime, the coach can get a word in edgewise," he said wryly.

They put their words into action yesterday in devising ways to overcome the team's second straight slow start. Capitalizing on their defensive prowess and rebounding strength, the U.S. women played with the kind of energy and selflessness their male counterparts have lacked and rallied for an 80-61 victory over the Czech Republic at the Helliniko Indoor Arena.

"Overall, we came out and executed and did the things we wanted to do," said Sheryl Swoopes, who scored all seven of her points in the second half. "In the first quarter they came out and did not miss. We turned up our defense and got a little more aggressive and slowed them down.

"Once they cooled off, their transition game never got going, and that's one of their biggest strengths."

As in its opener against New Zealand, in which it trailed 7-0 in the early going, the U.S. team wasn't sharp from the outset and had to find a response to the Czechs' hot shooting. The answer proved to be clamping down defensively and playing tougher inside, even though the slippery floor made an adventure out of every trip into the paint.

"The floor is horrible," Swoopes said. "I don't know if it's paint or vinyl, but it's very slippery. I watched the men fall [Sunday] night, too. People are hesitant to go there."

Perils aside, the U.S. women played with unswerving determination at every position. Eleven of their 12 players scored, with only Katie Smith missing out on the fun while she recovers from a bruised right knee.

Lisa Leslie led the U.S. team with 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, evenly split between the offensive and defensive boards. Her efforts were key to the U.S. team's 43-22 rebounding edge. Tina Thompson - one of the players Chancellor calls his "zone busters" - added 12 points.

Zuzana Klimesova led the Czechs with 18 points, but she hit only two of seven field-goal attempts in the second half and scored only six points in the last 20 minutes.

The Czech Republic began to fall apart when point guard Romana Hamzova picked up her fourth foul and was pulled with 1:17 left in the opening quarter. The Czechs had no one nearly as good, and the U.S. team capitalized to begin a 6-0 run to close out the quarter. Yolanda Griffiths' aggressiveness on offense and fearlessness on defense fueled a 14-0 U.S. spree in the late stages of the second quarter, and when the U.S. team opened the third quarter with a 16-2 U.S. spurt, the game was essentially over.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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