Leslie sets the pace as U.S. trips S. Korea

Center gets 25 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks to spark 80-57 victory

Women's Basketball

Athens 2004

August 19, 2004|By Helene Elliott | Helene Elliott,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ATHENS - The line of succession has been established.

The day Lisa Leslie can no longer dominate inside and frustrate ambitious opponents, Ruth Riley will step into her role with the U.S. national and Olympic teams. It's a key reason Riley, a center with the WNBA's Detroit Shock, is backing up the 32-year-old Los Angeles Sparks center on the Athens Olympic squad.

"It would definitely be an honor, and it would take a lot of work on my part over the next four years," Riley said.

Or maybe longer, because Leslie shows no signs she's fading.

Leslie simply took over yesterday as the U.S. women's team brushed aside a pesky South Korean team with good speed and sharp outside shooting. Leslie hit 11 of 13 shots and scored a game-high 25 points, to go with seven rebounds and three blocks, as the United States rallied from an early deficit to run off with an 80-57 victory at the Helliniko Indoor Arena.

"Why do you think I call her the Big Dawg?" U.S. coach Van Chancellor said. "When the time comes, the Big Dawg will hunt."

Leslie scored seven of the U.S. women's first nine points in the second quarter, all on drives or strength moves the South Koreans couldn't stop.

Although the U.S. women trailed 23-20 after the first quarter, following the pattern they'd set in falling behind against New Zealand in their Olympic opener and against the Czech Republic on Monday, they regrouped efficiently.

After South Korea pulled within 33-32 with 2:42 left in the second quarter, the U.S. women outscored them 25-2 in a wave that lasted until 4:17 remained in the third quarter.

"I wouldn't say we had a slow start. They came out shooting threes, and it's hard to trade two for three [points]," Leslie said. "I really love it when we pick up full court [defensive press]."

This is Leslie's third Olympics, and she hasn't ruled out a return in Beijing in 2008. She also welcomes being challenged by Riley, as well as mentoring younger players. "Just say I feel really good, knock wood," she said, rapping her knuckles against the side of her head.

"That's what USA Basketball is all about, to pass our knowledge from one generation to the next."

Tina Thompson had 18 points for the United States, which will face Spain (3-0) tomorrow. "That's going to be a challenge for us," Chancellor said. "There's your headline: `U.S. faces big test Friday against Spanish national team.' "

Said guard Dawn Staley: "We will get tested. I'm not saying which team and which country. ... We're just prepared for that. The moment you think you're invincible, somebody surprises you."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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