By K.C. Johnson
BEIJING — With an average victory margin of 42.8 points through preliminary play, the U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team has been tested less than a kindergartner.
“The Spain game was close,” coach Anne Donovan said.
Really? Team USA won 93-55.
“That was a five-point game at halftime and a good test for us,” Donovan said.
It’s Donovan’s job, of course, not just to scribble X’s and O’s but to shrink head sizes as Team USA’s quest for a fourth straight gold medal enters the medal round with a quarterfinal matchup Tuesday against South Korea. Not that her players need much ego control.
“Whether we practice or play, we try to focus on getting better as a team,” forward Tamika Catchings said. “We can’t play the score game. Our focus is ourselves.”
At some point, the competition will increase, the scores will tighten, and that focus could pay dividends. If not against South Korea, then in possible down-the-road matchups against Russia, which knocked off Team USA at the 2006 world championships, or Australia, a potential gold-medal-game opponent.
Across the board, players scoffed at the notion that a close game could rattle Team USA.
“We’ve played close games in the (pre-Olympic) warmup tournament, and all of us have had experience in big and close games,” forward Candace Parker said. “We hope that if we take care of business, maybe those won’t happen.
”But obviously we know that Russia and Australia and South Korea will play us better. We just need to worry about us. That’s what we’ve done all tournament.“
Catchings played professionally in South Korea and is well-versed in the Asian style of solid ball movement, three-point shooting and shot fakes. Team USA struggled defending the latter against lowly New Zealand, which Donovan no doubt will feature in her off-day video session. Team USA defeated South Korea 80-57 in preliminary play at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
”It’s a very interchangeable (team),“ Donovan said. ”We’re going to end up switching a whole lot of the game.“
And who knows? Maybe it will be a close one.
”I think we’re all winners, and we’ll find a way to dig down deep and win,“ veteran Lisa Leslie said. ”I’m sure there will be close games. Well, maybe, maybe not, you never know.“