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US routes Czech Republic; Jackson leads Australia

Aug. 09, 2008, 12:33 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) With U.S. President George W. Bush looking on, the American 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 po ints in the first half to lead the U.S. to the 97-57 victory on Saturday night.

The Americans got off to a slow start before Taurasi 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.

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.

A 22-5 run for the Americans in the third quarter put the game out of reach for the Czechs. The U.S. led 75-44 at the end of the third, sending the President, his wife Laura, and daughter Barbara home.

Sylvia Fowles scored 15 of her game-high 18 points in the second half for the U.S.

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 players from 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.

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," China coach Tom Maher said. "We have nothing to lose in this game, all the pressure is on them." .

WNBA star Lauren Jackson led medal favorite Australia with 18 points and 10 rebounds as the Opals opened with an 83-64 win over Belarus.

Australia has lost the last two Olympic finals to the United States but comes into the 2008 Beijing Games as world champions. A close 71-67 loss to the Americans in the FIBA Diamond Ball tournament in Hainang last week - the first match between the teams since the Athens 2004 final - highlighted how close the competition could be in Beijing.

The Opals were tentative in the opening stages, but built a 19-12 lead at quarter time and expanded that to 44-28 at the half.

"Our girls were challenged by the fact we have never played Belarus," Australia coach Jan Stirling said. "For us it was a significant game, and I think our recent loss in the Diamond Ball against the USA helped prepare us for today.

"We're just chipping away at a number of things - we've got quite a few things to work on, but I thought we executed pretty well."

In other matches, Beon Yeon-ha and Choi You-nah each scored 19 points to help South Korea beat Brazil 68-62 in overtime and New Zealand edged Mali 76-72.

In the final match, Tatiana Shchegoleva and Ilona Korstin scored 13 points each to give Russia a 62-57 victory over Latvia.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was among the crowd at the Olympic Basketball Stadium, which has a capacity of 18,000, for the tournament's opening match.

Suzy Batkovic, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds, said Australia's match against the first-time Olympian Belorussians helped clear "my jitterbugs."

"We have so much more to give. Our chances are extremely high at these Olympics - we've come here to take home gold," she said.

In an afternoon match, South Korea overcame a six-point deficit in the last two minutes of regulation and went on a 11-2 run to start the extra period and never looked back. Brazil had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but Micaela Jacinto missed a 15-footer from the corner that bounced off the rim twice before falling out.