Britain shows it could create waves at Olympics
MANCHESTER, England (AP)
Britain coach Tom Maher is delighted with his women's basketball team.
The Olympic newcomers have gone from a questionable entrant into the Games into a team that could pull off a few upsets.
''I'm delighted with our progress,'' Maher said. ''Four years ago we were rubbish. Now we can play and look respectable. We've learned a lot from when we played Australia, France. It's fantastic. You can see the learning. They've come so far and I couldn't be prouder.''
Maher is no stranger to the Games, having led four different countries to the Olympics. He guided Australia to the bronze medal in 1996 and silver in 2000. He then took New Zealand (2004) and China (2008) to the Games.
''This was a fantastic dress rehearsal for the Olympics,'' Maher said. ''It was a good game, big crowd, noisy. Fantastic happening for us.''
His team wasn't afraid of the Americans, jumping out to an 11-point lead in the first 7 minutes. Still he wasn't fooled into thinking an upset was possible.
''We can't compete with them. That's the best team in the world,'' Maher said. ''Quite frankly they aren't in our range in the moment, nor should they be. It was a not a surprise they stepped up the gas. We made some good plays early and hit some shots.''
U.S. coach Geno Auriemma was impressed with the improvement he's seen in the Brits and thinks they could make some noise in the Olympics.
''It's about which matchups you get and what happens that one individual night,'' he said. ''You don't have to win best-of-3 or -5 series, just one night. If you can play well that night. They've proven they can compete with best teams in the world now it's about making shots.''
Britain got off to a great start in front of its home crowd, outhustling the Americans. The British opened up a 21-10 advantage behind Leedham with 3 minutes left in the first half. That prompted Auriemma to go with a more defensive lineup. The group of Maya Moore, Linsday Whalen, Angel McCoughtry, Swin Cash and Tina Charles quickly responded by scoring the final 15 points of the quarter to make it 26-21.
The Americans scored the first six points of the second quarter to make it 21 straight before Leedham hit a tough runner to end the spurt. That run got the U.S. men's team excited. The men, who play Britain in an exhibition game Thursday night, were sitting courtside for the game and left with about 4 minutes left and the women up 25 points.
The U.S. only led 47-32 at the half behind Moore, who had 14 at the break. Britain wouldn't go away cutting its deficit to seven midway through the third quarter. That's when Auriemma put the sparkplugs back in and they promptly led the U.S. to a 19-4 run to close the period. Whalen started the burst with a reverse layup, scoring eight of her points during the spurt which ended any hopes of a British upset.
''When they pressed us we panicked a bit,' said Jo Leedham, who scored 21 points to lead Britain. ''We were really rushed and didn't get into our stuff. They are the best running team in this league.''
The U.S. was still without Sue Bird, who left the team after the death of her stepfather Dennis this past weekend. She practiced on Saturday and Sunday, but missed the exhibition game on Monday against Brazil to be with her family. Auriemma said he thinks Bird will rejoin the team this weekend when they travel to Istanbul for the next leg of their pre-Olympic training tour.
''It's definitely not an excuse, but having Sue makes a difference,'' Catchings said. ''Diana Taurasi did a good job playing the point, but she's more comfortable at the 2 or 3.''
The Americans will play Turkey and Croatia in exhibition games before heading to London on July 25. The U.S. has won four straight Olympic gold medals.
Follow Doug Feinberg on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dougfeinberg