Souhan: U.S. women's hoops team becomes a force

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 8, 2012 - 1:42 PM

The U.S. women embody team spirit, and have corrected their one flaw - defense - on the fly.

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Team USA's Maya Moore celebrated the quarterfinal victory over Canada on Tuesday. Moore helped force 26 turnovers and led a U.S. defensive effort that limited Canada to 16-for-53 field-goal shooting.

Photo: Eric Gay, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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LONDON - This is what everyone involved in team sports wants, a dynasty independent of individuals, a dynasty that transcends coaches and star players and even athletic generations.

The U.S. women's basketball team is gathering speed now, becoming more dominant as another gold medal looms. Tuesday afternoon in London, the U.S. whipped Canada 91-48 in the quarterfinals of the Olympic tournament, winning its 39th consecutive Olympic game.

With a defense relying on pressuring the ball and denying passes, the U.S. smothered Canada into a handful of shot-clock violations while signaling that this is hardly a team primed for a letdown.

One game after tying their scoring record with 114 points against China, the Americans fiddled with their starting lineup, looking for more ball movement on offense and more intensity on defense. Coach Geno Auriemma started Lynx forward Maya Moore, 23, instead of star center Candace Parker, and with Moore putting a straitjacket on Canada star Kim Smith, the Canadians often either ran out of time or threw up a silly-looking shot under duress.

"We take getting scored on personal,'' Moore said. "We don't want people to score on us. At all. That's the competitive nature of these 12 players. Now it is definitely enhanced by Coach Auriemma, but it starts inside each player.

"When we can get a shot-clock violation, those are huge momentum builders for your team. Every single person on the floor has to be doing their job to accomplish that.''

Faced with intense, on-the-ball defense, Canada committed 26 turnovers and managed just 15 assists, shooting 16-of-53 from the field.

Canada's patient, precise offense faltered from the start.

"It's frustrating,'' said Canada's Shona Thorburn, who shot 1-for-6 and had three turnovers. "No, really, it is. You seem open, you seem like you have a lane, but they're so quick. It's not even the quickness -- it's that they're so long. Well, their feet are quick and they can take away so much from you.''

During the rout, former UConn players Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird watched Moore and smiled. Moore's U.S. and Lynx teammates have compared her to a young Michael Jordan.

"She could play in four or five Olympics,'' Taurasi said. "She's that good, and that young.

"We'll watch her from the bench and laugh, because in college she wanted to score 40 on everybody. Sue and I would score eight points each early in a blowout and start passing. Maya wants 40 whether she's playing Tennessee or Seton Hall."

In this tournament, everyone looks like Seton Hall to the U.S., which has used its depth and defensive pressure to win every game by at least 25. For this team, making shots is a bonus.

Lynx star Lindsay Whalen had her least-productive game of the tournament, making one of four shots and finishing with five points and two assists. Seimone Augustus, the other Lynx star on the team, finished with nine points, three rebounds and three assists. Moore had 11 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals. No American scored more than 12 points.

"Everything starts with defense," Auriemma said. "We had a bad defense in the first games during the first five or six minutes. That was what we had to work on with the team. We have great offensive players, we don't need to show them how to score. We have to show them how to defend. I don't think any of the girls made it to the team because they are good defenders."

They might win another gold medal because they've learned on the fly.

"In the WNBA, you're a key player on the team, you want to score 20, pick up seven rebounds and seven assists, and then they want you to pick up full-court?" Taurasi said. "You're crazy. Here, your minutes are probably more limited, so you can expend a little more energy on the things that it doesn't take any talent to do, and then, hopefully our talent, our ability to make shots comes naturally.

"The last two games, I think that's the way we should play."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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