Team USA could meet nemesis Australia in tournament's gold medal game
SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. women's basketball team won't have to wait until Beijing to get a glimpse of its main competition in the Olympics.
The Americans are part of the six-team FIBA Diamond Ball tournament that begins Saturday in Haining, China. The tournament features four of the top teams in the world with the U.S., Russia, Australia, and China all playing.
The U.S. will open against Latvia on Sunday before facing Russia the next day. The Americans could meet Australia in the gold medal game on Tuesday.
"It's one of those things that no matter the outcome you have to let it go," Katie Smith said. "You can't get caught up if we beat someone badly since they might be going through the motions and that's not what you're going to see later on. It's nice to get a pre-scouting report of what you're going to see in Beijing."
Clearly all eyes will be focused on Monday's matchup with Russia. Even before Becky Hammon decided to play for Russia, the Americans were still stinging from the loss in the 2006 World Championship semifinals.
"They have been a thorn in our side," U.S. coach Anne Donovan said. "We weren't at full strength then, but certainly the players are thinking about it."
Hammon's decision to play for Russia adds intrigue to the matchup.
"It's just a basketball game. At least we're going to try to make it that way," said Hammon, laughing. "I played against all those girls. Many of those girls have expressed support for me, which I really appreciate. I have no ill-will toward anybody on that team."
After practicing hard for three days in San Francisco, the U.S. team was ready for competition.
"We can practice, we can run through stuff, but it's getting out there and playing teams that have played together," Smith said. "Guarding the international game, and having a little bit of that officiating is going to be nice as a warmup before the Olympic games.
"You get a feeling on how to guard people, their moves. I think it's great for us to have that. Get a glimpse of players you know, or you kind of know."
Donovan doesn't want to put too much emphasis on the tournament as she is trying to get the team ready for the first game of the Olympics on Aug. 9 against the Czech Republic.
"It's an important piece in our process. We'll have three days of practice, one day of practice then we play a game. Keeping it in perspective is also important for us," she said. "Getting a look at Australia and Russia, who we might not see until the (Olympic) medal round, is important."
Besides getting an early look at potential opponents, heading abroad will help the U.S. team get away from some of the distractions that have plagued the squad while training in San Francisco. The players have had to go to many WNBA and Olympic events, and they have had a pretty full schedule.
"The nice thing about going on the road is that we get away from it all," veteran DeLisha Milton-Jones said. "I know in the WNBA its almost nicer to play on the road sometimes because you don't have so many people pulling at you. You can just sit in your hotel room and order food or go out to get something to eat."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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