BEIJING (AP) The popular U.S. women's team won't have the crowd with them in their next game as they face Olympics-host China Monday night. That will be a turnaround from their opener, when it was clear the Americans were the crowd favorite, led by President Bush and the cheering U.S. men's basketball team.
With 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.
The crowd was very appreciative of the women's team. In pre-game introductions Lisa Leslie got a huge ovation from the fans, who cheered almost every play the Americans made. The U.S. players expect a much different atmosphere against the host nation.
"The fans will definitely be behind them," U.S. co-captain Katie Smith said. "They have been waiting for years for this and they will be ready."
The Americans experienced it firsthand in April when they lost to the Chinese in the gold medal game of the Good Luck Beijing tournament. The U.S. isn't too worried as only four players from the current Olympic team played in that tournament.
"We had a mishmash of players here at the time," U.S. coach Anne Donovan said. "But we could see the enthusiasm then for their women's team. They've put a lot of time, money, resources into the women's program. The last four years it's been about building it up and getting on that medal stand. So we know it's going to be a tough match."
Even with their 84-81 win in the earlier tournament, Chinese coach Tom Maher knows that he will have his work cut out against the U.S.
"We gained some confidence, but know that the Americans were at half-strength," he said. "We have nothing to lose in this game, all the pressure is on them."
On Saturday night against the Czech Republic, the Americans got off to a slow start, trailing 13-2 giving up layup after layup. 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.
"Teams come out and play hard against us," said Smith. "We gave up a couple of easy buckets but they executed. We're not going to come out and be up by 20 in the first 2 minutes. We executed our game plan and eventually got up big."
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.
"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 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. The president gave a wave to the delighted crowd as he left at the end of the third quarter.
"He's a very knowledgeable, enthusiastic fan," said USA basketball president Val Ackerman, who sat with the first family during the game. "He knows the players and wants to learn about the international game."
"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.