U.S. Women Tested By Spain, Pass With Flying Colors 71-58

August 20, 2004  • Athens, Greece

Dawn Staley has now won 20 Olympic games in her career.

The 2004 U.S. Women's Olympic Team (4-0) earned a hard-fought 71-58 battle over previously unbeaten Spain (3-1) in Athens on Friday afternoon. Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks) once again paced the USA attack with 19 points, while Tina Thompson (Houston Comets) scored 16 and Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) pitched in 14. The victory assures the USA the No. 1 seed for preliminary round Group B and the U.S. will face the fourth place finisher out of Group A in quarterfinal action on Aug. 25 (game times TBD).

The United States closes 2004 Olympic preliminary round action against China (1-3), which fell 79-77 to New Zealand (2-2) this morning. The USA versus China contest, played at 8:00 p.m. in Athens, will be televised at 2:00 p.m. EDT on CNBC.

"I thought Spain played really well today," said USA and Houston Comets head coach Van Chancellor, who now owns a 34-0 record as a USA Basketball head coach. "I thought Amaya Valdemoro, she use to play for me in Houston, and I knew she was going to try and come out early and show me she's still a great player. She played really well and I'm proud for her. Their team played really good, but I'm really proud of us facing a lot of adversity today. Our team faced as much adversity as I've seen a team. Lisa (Leslie), Tina (Thompson), Yolanda Griffith, all three post players stayed in foul trouble the whole game. That was one. We wound up with our floor guard (Dawn Staley) with four minutes to go with four fouls. We had a period of time where we just couldn't score, we just couldn't make a shot. In the first half basically only two players had scored - Catchings and Lisa. And to see us overcome all of that, I thought we overcame a lot tonight and I'm really proud of us. We did some really nice things."

The United States got off to a quick start, jumping out to a 6-0 lead in under two minutes. But, as would become the case for three quarters of play, Spain would not let the Americans get away. Former Houston Comet (1998, 1999, 2000) Amaya Valdemoro hit a pair of back-to-back jumpers to get her squad going and at the end of the first quarter the United States was up 19-16.

Spain got the first bucket of the second quarter and at 8:01 Valdemoro scored again for Spain to give her squad its only edge of the game, 20-19. Leslie scored six points in a 7-3 United States run as the red, white and blue reclaimed the lead for good. However, Spain continued to give the Americans their first real test of the ‘04 Games and at halftime, the USA held a slim 31-29 advantage, behind 15 points from Leslie and 12 from Catchings.

Part of the USA's struggles in the first half resulted from frigid shooting. The squad hit just 11-of-35 (.314) shots from the field and missed all four 3-point attempts. Spain, on the other hand, made 3-of-7 (.429) from beyond the arc and managed to sink 11-of-26 (.423) from the floor.

"I think we came out today and were really focused as far as playing defensively and offensively," said Catchings. "We came out basically on a mission in the first half and I think we did a great job as far as right off the bat, a couple of people got into foul trouble, but coach talked about it in the locker room that this was the position we wanted to be in. Spain is a great team and we were able to get through everything that they threw at us We feel good about it right now, and we'll get ready for China on Sunday."

 
Tina Thompson gets interviewed by NBC's Craig Sager during halftime of the USA-Spain game.  

Allowing Spain just two field goals in the third quarter, the United States was able to pad its lead to nine, 50-41 at the end of three, with the help of seven points from Thompson. Spain kept things in single digits by making 8 of its 10 tries from the charity stripe in the third period.

Not allowing Spain much room to shoot in the final stanza's opening minutes, Spain's first three points of the final stanza came from three different trips from the line. With the help of four points from Thompson, The USA doubled Spain's scoring output during the initial 3:56 of the fourth quarter to take a 12-point, 56-44 lead. Following a pair of Yolanda Griffith (Sacramento Monarchs) baskets the American women owned their largest lead of the game, 60-44, with just under five minutes to play. Spain pulled to within 10 points, 60-50, with 3:57 to go, but couldn't get any closer to an upset.

"As the games go on, they get tougher and the competition gets better," said Thompson. "We expect it to be a competitive game and that's what we're here for. We came out and continued to execute our game plan and play well. We definitely picked it up on defense in the second half. In the second half, it was a clean slate for us. In the locker room, we talked about starting fresh and coming out with a high intensity and that's what we did."

In addition to the contributions from Catchings, Leslie and Thompson, the USA received stellar efforts from Dawn Staley (Charlotte Sting), who passed off for six assists and three steals, and Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets) tallied eight points, eight rebounds, four assists and a game best five steals.

A 2002 All-World Championship selection, Valdemoro scored 14 of her game high 22 points in the first half.

The USA improved its shooting in the second half, going 15-33 (.455) from the field, finishing the game making 38.2 percent (26-68 FGs) of its shots. The USA once again held the advantage on the glass, 37-28, and gave up the ball just 15 times. Utilizing a pressure defense, the Americans were credited with 17 steals and forced 21 Spanish turnovers.

In today's other Group B action the Czech Republic (2-2) defeated South Korea (0-4) 97-75. In Group A, Russia (3-1) rushed past Japan (1-3) 94-71. Australia (3-0) will face host Greece (1-2) in tonight's 8:00 p.m. (all times local) contest, while Nigeria (0-3) and Brazil (2-1) face off at 10:15 p.m.

With the victory over Spain, the U.S. upped its Olympic winning streak to 21 games, dating back to the 1992 bronze medal contest. The USA now owns a 38-3 overall record (.927 winning percentage) in Olympic competition and has won a record four golds, one silver and one bronze medal in the six previous Olympic basketball competitions in which the U.S. competed. The United States, which earned the silver medal at the inaugural Olympic women's basketball tournament in 1976, earned its first gold at the ‘84 Games in Los Angeles, collected gold again in Seoul in ‘88, and captured back-to-back golds with unblemished 8-0 records in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.




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