BEIJING (AP) With President Bush and the first family looking on, the United States women's basketball team began its quest for a fourth-straight gold medal with a rout of the Czech Republic.
Diana Taurasi scored 13 of her 17 points in the first half to lead the U.S. to the 97-57 victory in the opener Saturday night.
The Americans got off to a slow start, trailing 13-2 giving up layup after layup to the feisty Czech team. Taurasi finally got the team rolling much to the pleasure of Bush, who was dressed in a blue shirt and USA cap. Taurasi's layup ignited a 20-4 run by the U.S. to close the first quarter.
"Sometimes you think things are going to be easy from the get-go and they're not," Taurasi said. "We're playing against very good teams that have been together for a long time."
The U.S. continued the run in the second quarter behind Cappie Pondexter, who scored seven of her 12 points in the period. Her 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Americans a 49-31 lead at halftime.
The Americans continued the onslaught in the third quarter using a 22-5 to put the game out of reach. The U.S. led 75-44 at the end of the third, sending the President, his wife Laura, and daughter Barbara home.
"I told him if the Czech's came back and the U.S. lost this game I'd come and find him," said USA Basketball president Val Ackerman, who sat with Bush and his family during the game. "He laughed and responded 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."
The President gave a wave to the delighted crowd as he left at the end of the third quarter.
"It was awesome, I know he had to leave early," said Lisa Leslie, who is looking to become the first basketball player to win four straight gold medals. "It's an honor that he came out and watched us perform and that he is a fan of the women's basketball."
Sylvia Fowles scored 14 of her 16 points in the second half for the U.S. to go with 14 rebounds.
"Just to come out here tonight and see how many fans were supporting us and that our President was out here was good," said Fowles. "Now I feel like an Olympian."
Eva Viteckova had 12 points to lead the Czech Republic, which will face Mali in their next game.
Even with the first family in attendance, the biggest cheer from the crowd was for the U.S. men's basketball team, who were sitting behind the basket watching the game. At the half the Chinese fans went through a roll call of the U.S. players, who obliged by standing and bowing to the delight of the fans.
"We knew the men's team was going to come today," Leslie said. "They were saying all day, 'we're going to come, we're going to come.' "
Up next for the women is host China, which beat Spain 67-64 in its first game.
China beat the U.S. 84-81 in the gold medal game of the Good Luck Beijing test event back in April. The Chinese team was at full strength for the event while the American roster only had four players who are currently playing in the Olympics.
"We gained some confidence, but know that the Americans were at half-strength," Chinese coach Tom Maher said. "We have nothing to lose in this game, all the pressure is on them." .