Standing on the podium waiting to receive their FIBA Diamond Ball tournament gold medals, the United States women's basketball team had...
HAINING, China — Standing on the podium waiting to receive their FIBA Diamond Ball tournament gold medals, the United States women’s basketball team had only one thought on their minds: This was only a dress rehearsal. The real performance begins now at the Olympics.
“Being here is great but this wasn’t the real show,” said Candace Parker, who scored 12 points in America’s 71-67 win over Australia in the gold medal game. “It was like an audition for the Olympics. We passed the pre-Olympic test but now we’re going to go and take care of business.”
This was the first meeting between these rivals with both teams at full strength since the 2004 Olympics gold-medal game, won by the Americans 74-63.
“This is all locked away,” said Lisa Leslie, who led the U.S. with 14 points. “This is rehearsal. Now we’re getting ready for the big game.”
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Before Tuesday’s game both teams said this contest was merely a tuneup for the Olympics and nothing more. Yet the physical play spoke differently. Players on both teams hit the floor after hard fouls and the game had the feel of an Olympic gold-medal matchup not a meaningless game.
“I’ve been to three Olympics games and this Diamond Ball is by far the best in terms of preparation,” said Australian and Storm center Lauren Jackson, who finished with 16 points in the loss and was named the tournament’s MVP. “Everyone has their full teams and the top three teams in the world are here. It’s a great lead up to the Olympics.”
The U.S. was also tested by Latvia in its first game. Latvia proved it could be a potential spoiler in the Olympics, beating Russia in the opener. Aneta Jekabsone averaged 29 points for Latvia against the two powerhouse teams and made a strong impression.
“She can play on my team any day,” said guard Sue Bird, a Storm All-Star, who had 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting. “I think she would do well in the WNBA.”
U.S. men tested
SHANGHAI, China — They couldn’t shoot and occasionally didn’t defend. Definitely a performance the Americans should be relieved came before they got to Beijing.
Undefeated, but no longer unchallenged, the U.S. Olympic basketball team wrapped up its exhibition schedule with its toughest test, pulling away to beat Australia 87-76 Tuesday night.
The United States led by only four points nearly halfway through the third quarter and was up by seven midway through the fourth against an Australian team that was resting its best player, Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut.
The U.S. players still feel like gold-medal favorites, but they hardly looked like gold medal locks during this shaky outing.
“Nothing alarming for us. It’s alarming when you lose,” Dwyane Wade said.
“We’re still growing. We’re still going to get better as each game goes on, but I think tonight we learned something.”
The Americans relied on an aggressive defensive effort to overcome a horrendous night from three-point range and the free-throw line, the same areas that proved costly in their semifinal loss to Greece in the world championships two years ago.
Wade scored 22 points and LeBron James had 16 for the Americans, who finished 3 of 18 from behind the arc and 20 of 33 (61 percent) at the foul line.
• Torch bearers carried the Olympic flame on the final relay of its long and sometimes contentious global tour, greeted by rapturous crowds in Beijing two days before it officially launches the Summer Games. The arrival of the torch in the capital marks one of the concluding steps in China’s seven years of preparations for the games that have cost billions of dollars, and one which Beijing hopes will serve as the country’s symbolic debut as a modern world power.