Team USA beat a tough Czech Republic team to finish unbeaten in the second
preliminary round at the World Championships in Brazil. Only the Czechs and
the Russians have given the Americans a tough game so far. Team USA's depth
and defense have been its greatest assets thus far, along with some very timely
shooting. The US leads the tournament in virtually every category so far. The fact that mainstays Lisa Leslie and
Yolanda Griffith withdrew from the team and that forward Sheryl Swoopes has
been slowed by an injury have put some new players in the limelight. Forward
Tina Thompson has become the team's go-to scorer in the post. She's struggled
at times with tall squads like Russia and the Czechs, but her relentlessness
inside has been tough to stop. Diana Taurasi has become the designated
shooter, pulling up against unwary defenses and burying long jumpers. The
future of the team is Tennessee rising soph Candace Parker, whose play has been
either brilliant or shaky, with little in-between.
If the team has a flaw, it's been ballhandling. Going into the tournament,
Team USA carried only one true point guard on the roster in Sue Bird. Alana
Beard, Katie Smith and Taurasi have all handled the ball a bit but turn the
ball over way too much. Beard's playmaking has been spectacular at times (a
one-handed bounce pass she threw in transition to Parker was especially
memorable), but she's mostly there to play tough perimeter defense.
Turnovers and occasional stagnancy on offense have allowed some foes to stick
around. In particular, the US was in a position to blow out both the Russians
and Czechs, and instead frittered away big leads. The US has overcome a lack
of size and scoring inside by committee and through quickness, with Thompson
and Parker operating exclusively in the post, and Delisha Milton-Jones using
her physical style to overpower opponents.
This page will detail Team USA's games up to this point. Next up is
Lithuania, a youngish squad that went through a lot of hassle to get to Brazil
and just barely squeaked into the quarterfinals on a tiebreaker. The US should
have no problems with them. Looking ahead, the US could play the winner of
Spain and Russia in the semifinals. Though Russia has looked shaky in the
tournament thus far (just a 3-3 record), they tend to sandbag a lot and make
their best effort in the medal rounds. They've been the silver medalists in
each of the past two World Championships (losing to the US both times). With
skilled 6-8 center Maria Stepanova (formerly of the Phoenix Mercury), they have
a weapon that's given the US fits. The Russians actually rallied without her
after she fouled out against the US, and I'm sure they're eager for another
shot at the Americans.
The finals will likely match the US against either Australia (the only other
undefeated team in the tournament) or the Czechs. The latter team has a tough
quarterfinal matchup against host Brazil. The Czechs are bigger and better,
but you can't count out the passionate support the Brazilians will receive.
Meanwhile, the Opals of Australia should have no problem against France. Les
Bleus have played well in this tournament, upsetting the Czechs, but they're no
match for Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor. If the Aussies survive the Czechs,
we could see a finals matchup between the two squads we saw in Cameron:
Australia and the USA. This time, Jackson is used to playing with her national
teammates and will be a lot tougher to stop than in Durham. That game would
come on this Saturday.