Women's Basketball Takes Down Croatia
LONDON -- With such a loaded team, USA women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma can look back at his bench with a relaxed sense of ease.
After Croatia made a second-quarter run and even grabbed a short-lived lead, Auriemma inserted second- and third-group players until he found the right mix and then Team USA finally pulled away for an 81-56 victory over Croatia in both teams' opening game at the 2012 Olympic Games.
Forwards Tina Charles and Candace Parker each recorded a double-double but it was Angel McCoughtry, who came off the bench and sparked a 16-0 scoring run the U.S. used to take control in the decisive fourth quarter.
"The second group came in and really took over and I think Angel was a big part of that," said Auriemma, whose team held a slight 31-28 halftime lead. "We have so many scorers on this team and everyone will get a bucket here and there. I think it's one of the strengths of this team."
McCoughtry scored on a putback and then converted a layup off a steal on consecutive possessions early in the fourth period. That started the scoring surge the U.S. needed to put away a Croatian team that was making its overall Olympic debut.
McCoughtry finished with 13 points and was one of four double-digit scorers for the U.S. Tamika Catchings added 10 points, five rebounds and two steals.
"We are a team of professionals and just because we're Team USA doesn't mean we are always going to win big," said Charles, who led the Americans with a team-high 14 points and 10 rebounds. "Coach knows how to get the best out of us and which team to put out there in the right situations."
It was another balanced scoring attack for the U.S. as all 11 players who entered the game scored and pulled down at least one rebound.
After Croatia missed more than 10 consecutive shots to start the game, it was held to only four points in the first period. But it didn't take long for the Croatians to rally back.
Led by Jelena Ivezic's two 3-pointers, Croatia went on a 17-2 scoring spurt to take a 26-23 lead with 2:39 left in the second quarter. Ivezic finished with a team-high 22 points and seven rebounds.
U.S. point guard Dianna Taurasi answered the Croatian run by knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers. Her brief perimeter assault put the U.S. back in the lead as it walked into the locker room for intermission with a slim 3-point edge.
"I don't think you can be disappointed at this level because there are so many good teams out there," Auriemma said. "We're better than we showed today. Then again, I would be surprised if we were great right off the bat."
Charles and Parker, who tallied a team-high 13 rebounds, were successful in the post as the U.S. scored 46 points in the paint, compared to just 24 from Croatia. When U.S. wasn't pushing the ball in transition -- it finished with 15 fast-break points -- the team was cleaning up on the boards with 27 second-chance points.
"It was the first time for us here and to play against the best players in the world was a huge honor," said Ivezic, who finished with four 3-pointers and played the entire game except for a 10-second breather. "I think we did well early on because with all those players on one team, it's hard to play against."
Marija Vrsaljko shot 8-for-11 from the field and tallied 19 points for Croatia, which will meet China (1-0) on Monday. Next up in Group A preliminary play for USA is a meeting with Angola (0-1), which lost to Tunisia on Saturday, 70-52.
NOTES: With Saturday's win, Team USA has now won 34 consecutive international contests ... Five U.S. players participated in their first ever Olympic game on Saturday ... Asjha Jones was the only U.S. player who did not play Saturday because Auriemma said she was sore from the Olympic Opening Ceremony the night before.
United States 81, Croatia 56
USA (1-0) 14 20 22 28 -- 81
Croatia (0-1) 4 24 19 9 -- 56
USA: L. Whalen 9, S. Augustus 2, S. Bird 5, M. Moore 4, A. McCoughtry 13, T. Catchings 10, S. Cash 3, D. Taurasi 8, S. Fowles 2, T. Charles 14, C. Parker 11. Totals: 29(3) 14-22 81.
CRO: M. Sandra 3, M. Vrsaljko 19, I. Ciglar 3, A. Lelas 2, L. Ivankovic 7, J. Ivezic 22. Totals: 17(6) 4-5 56.