28 turnovers cause for Olympic concern
NEW YORK -- Despite an easy victory against the WNBA All-Stars, members of the U.S. Olympic team know they have some things to work on before the Athens Games.
LIEBERMAN'S TAKEThough it might not have been a flawless victory, the U.S. national team accomplished several things Thursday. For starters, every team headed to the Athens Games later this month was undoubtedly watching, so the Americans' ability to hit some outside shots and establish a nice inside-outside game was important. But the team's biggest strength is its depth, and this might be the deepest U.S. women's Olympic squad in history. Paced by Yolanda Griffith's nine points and nine rebounds, Team USA's bench combined for an unbelievable 18 points and 18 boards in the first half. Those numbers might even have been better if Sheryl Swoopes and Katie Smith weren't both sidelined with injury. The U.S. women are big and strong, and boast a nice blend of veterans and younger players, any of whom could be starting. They are just that talented. The Americans also are great passers, even the posts, and they always seem to get the ball to each other for open shots. And except for Dawn Staley and Shannon Johnson, Team USA is very big on the perimeter. Tenacity and chemistry also remain strengths. No one in the WNBA is more intense than Tamika Catchings or Swin Cash, and Team USA is lucky to have both of them on the same team. It was a smart move by coach Van Chancellor to play Cash, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi -- teammates on UConn's 39-0 squad in 2001-02 -- at the same time. They still know each others' games, and Bird and Taurasi still complement each other perfectly and seem interchangeable in the backcourt.
-- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman
The United States, comprised of most of the best players in the WNBA, outrebounded the All-Stars 62-30, and outscored them 42-22 in the paint and 32-9 on second-chance points. However, the Olympians also committed 28 turnovers.
"Having 20-plus turnovers shows we don't quite have that chemistry yet,'' Leslie said. "It's our first exhibition game, and we'll continue to get better. We have to take much better care of the ball and just continue to make that extra pass.''
Tina Thompson scored 11 points, and Yolanda Griffith had 11 points and a game-high 15 rebounds -- 11 offensive -- for the U.S. team, expected to dominate at Athens, heads to Europe this weekend.
"We're a better basketball team than we were tonight,'' U.S. coach Van Chancellor said. "Our defense was excellent. I thought we were championship caliber. Offensively, we have to work and we have to cut this rotation out. I played too many five-at-a-time (substitutions).''
Mwadi Mabika scored 11 points -- all in the second half -- and Cheryl Ford added 10 for the WNBA All-Stars, who were overmatched by their bigger opponents.
The U.S. team shot 38 percent from the field (30-for-80), including 5-for-19 on 3-pointers. The All-Stars finished at 29 percent (21-for-72), including just 1-for-20 on 3-pointers.
"They played harder than us,'' All-Stars coach Bill Laimbeer said. "We couldn't score. We had lots of open looks. There was nothing that they did to us that stopped us from scoring, except our own missed shots.''
Although the game was played under WNBA rules, the larger international ball -- 30.7 inches in circumference, compared to 29 inches used in league play -- was used to help the Olympians in their preparation.
"The big ball was a very big factor, not only for us, but for them, too,'' Laimbeer said. "They have only 'x' amount of time -- two weeks -- to get used to playing with the heavier ball on the perimeter shots.''
The Olympians led 39-20 at halftime, largely due to a 30-8 run over a 13½ minute stretch in the opening period. They built their lead to 27 points, 56-29, on a 3-pointer by Shannon Johnson with just under 11 minutes left.
"I had a lot of fun tonight,'' the All-Stars' Becky Hammon said. "I think it was nice for them to go against somebody else as a team instead of banging around each other in practice.
"We tried to throw a few things at them, too. ... Some zone, some traps, so hopefully it helped them work on what they need to.''
Both teams struggled with their shooting initially. The All-Stars opened 1-for-6, while the Olympians were 1-for-7 over the first three minutes. The first half was very physical, with both teams diving on the floor and fighting for loose balls.
After Taj McWilliams-Franklin's three-point play cut the All-Stars' deficit to 9-8 4½ minutes into the game, the United States went on their run heading into the final minute of the first half. The spurt was started when the Olympians' second team entered the game.
"We wanted to make a difference,'' said Sue Bird, headed to her first Olympics. "For us, that means coming in and trying to make some plays and really hold down the fort until those other players get back in the game. We did a good job of that tonight.''
The famous Rockettes were involved in the festivities, performing at halftime.
The U.S. team, playing without the injured Sheryl Swoopes and Katie Smith, wore their national team uniforms, while the All-Stars each wore their road uniforms.
The United States -- 13-0 earlier this year in exhibitions against international and professional club teams -- will face France on Sunday in the opener of a two-day tournament in Salamanca, Spain, before beginning Olympic play against New Zealand on August 14.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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