Slow start doesn't stop U.S. at worlds

Updated: September 25, 2010, 5:09 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

OSTRAVA, Czech Republic -- Even with the staggering numbers the U.S. put up in the first round, coach Geno Auriemma sees a lot of room for improvement.

That's a scary thought for the U.S. women's basketball team's second round opponent.

"Watching us the first three games, when our offense is moving, we're very good. When we're standing around, it's not so good," Auriemma said. "We've only had one practice together before they played, tomorrow will be our second. Hopefully we'll fix some of those things."

Even when the offense wasn't clicking the defense carried them. The U.S. had only three points in the first 8 minutes against France, before pulling away for an 81-60 victory on Saturday in the women's basketball world championships.

The competition will get a bit tougher in the second round as the Americans will have to play Canada, Belarus, and Australia -- the defending world champion.

"Coach always tells us that it's about us and what we do," point guard Sue Bird said. "We need to get better."

Up first are the Canadians on Monday, who lost to Belarus on Saturday.

"Obviously we know who were up against," Canada coach Allison McNeill said. "Our players see them play and we look at it as a challenge. To see where we stack up against them. We don't play the U.S. very often."

Sunday provides a much needed off day for the teams, who have played three straight games.

"The difficult thing about this tournament is you play three games and your team's tired, and then you have to practice," Auriemma said. "So how much can you practice, knowing that you have three more games? It's difficult to improve a lot during the tournament. You have to hope your team is ready to play when they get here."

Unlike the first two contests that saw them cruise on offense, the Americans looked out of sync against France and didn't get rolling until the second half.

[+] EnlargeLindsay Whalen
Joe Klamar/Getty ImagesLindsay Whalen and the Americans won their group and next face Canada.

"We were trying to do too much early," forward Tamika Catchings said. "We were making the extra pass or being too stagnant on offense. We did a really good job talking defensively that kept us in the game early."

Candice Dupree and Tina Charles each added 10 points for the Americans (3-0). Dupree is shooting a sizzling 84 percent from the field in the first three games.

"She really is amazing," Catchings said. "You look at her face and she's emotionless. She scores and has the same expression."

France (2-1) had looked impressive in its first two wins, routing Senegal and beating rival Greece. Facing the Americans was a much different challenge for the 2009 European champions. The French, who are playing without injured star Sandrine Gruda, have only beaten the U.S. once in the worlds -- in 1971.

"We have a really young team," French coach Pierre Vincent said. "You don't have a chance all the time to play the United States. When you get the chance you want to play with your whole team."

France will open against Belarus in the second round. The reiginig European champions were led by Endine Miyem, who scored 15 points.

South Korea 68, Mali 66

Beon Yeon Ha scored 21 points and Kim Kwe Ryong added 14 to help South Korea edge Mali 68-66 in overtime and advance to the second round, where it will face the Czech Republic.

The game was tied at 62 heading to the extra period before South Korea scored the first four points in overtime of the Group C game.

Djenebou Sissoko's jumper brought Mali (0-3) back within two before Kim's basket made it 68-64 with 1:57 left. Maiga answered a minute later with a lay-in, but Mali couldn't get another shot off, turning the ball over with 5 seconds left.

Hamchetou Maiga and Naignouma Coulibaly scored 16 points each to lead Mali, which rallied from a 17-point first quarter deficit.

Australia 83, China 59

Penny Taylor scored 16 points, while Jenny O'Hea and Hollie Grima each added 14 to help Australia beat China and win Group A.

The Aussies (3-0) jumped out to an early lead, outscoring China 32-19 in the first quarter. They led 51-36 at the half. Coach Carrie Graf decided to rest star Lauren Jackson, who played only three minutes and didn't score. The Australians will open against Greece in the second round.

Russia 77, Argentina 59

Irina Osipova scored 20 points and Svetlana Abrosimova added 13 to help Russia beat Argentina.

The Russians (3-0) had already clinched the group before the game and played their starters sparingly. Center Maria Stepanova played only six minutes and Becky Hammon 11.

Alejandra Chesta scored 11 points to lead Argentina (0-3), which finished the group winless.

Spain 69, Brazil 57

Amaya Valdemoro scored 17 points and Laia Palau added 12 to help Spain win the group. The Spaniards (3-0) will face Japan in the second round.

With the game tied at 17 early in the second quarter, Spain went on a 13-3 run to take control. Five different players scored during the run, which was capped by Valdemoro's free throws.

Erika de Souza scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead Brazil (1-2), which next faces Russia.

Greece 83, Senegal 68

Evanthia Maltsi scored a tournament-high 31 points to help Greece (1-2) advance to the second round. Maltsi was 11 for 15 from the field, hitting seven 3-pointers for the Greeks, who were making their first appearance at the worlds and were thrilled to advance to next round.

Astou Traore scored 14 points and Aya Traore added 13 for Senegal (0-3).

Belarus 61, Canada 49

Tatyana Troina scored 16 points and Anastasiya Verameyenka added 12 for Belarus. Yelena Leuchanka added seven points and 16 rebounds for Belarus, which clinched second place in Group A.

Canada, coming off a huge victory over China that got them to the second round, wasn't able to get much going offensively against the taller Belarus squad. The Canadians shot only 30 percent from the field.

Czech Republic 66, Japan 60

Ilona Burgrova scored 14 points and Edita Sujanova added 10 to help the Czech Republic finish second in the group.

Trailing by 11 early in the fourth quarter, Japan rallied to lead 64-60 on Yoko Nagi's lay-in with 3:31 left, but both teams went cold from the field, missing seven straight shots. Jana Vesela hit two free throws with 19 seconds left to seal the win for the Czechs (2-1).

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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