Dybas: Bird, U.S. women hoopsters look ready

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by Todd Dybas

SportsPressNorthwest

Posted on May 14, 2012 at 10:31 AM

After Friday's practice, it was suggested to de facto Team USA captain Diana Taurasi that ongoing international dominance of women's basketball by one country may not be good for the game.

Taurasi was a large part of Connecticut's tyrannical three college titles in four years (2001, 2002, 2004). She also won two WNBA championships with the Phoenix Mercury. And, no one has beaten the U.S. women's team in the Olympics since 1992.

Presented with these facts and the theory, Taurasi was introverted, per usual.

"I do not give a (bad word)," Taurasi said. "I'm trying to win a gold medal."

That's that.

The Americans are the deepest, most talented and top-ranked women's team on the planet. The trek to London for this summer's Olympics is expected to be rated on point differential, since a loss is doubtful.

Saturday night's exhibition game at KeyArena against China, ranked seventh in the world, is an example of the anticipated decimation. The U.S. was disjointed. Head coach Geno Auriemma played the entire roster, shuffling combinations. Yet, the U.S. won 100-62.

Sue Bird started. Then, she sat. A lot. Once she is among other women's luminaries, Bird just folds in, the way she did at UConn. Her influence is felt through precision and moderation.

She's also racked up the personal mileage. Bird had off-season hip surgery and played Saturday with a plastic mask to protect her recently broken nose. This will be her third Olympics and 13th season in the WNBA. She grinds each winter overseas. Bird played just 14:44 Saturday.

The upshot for Bird is that she doesn't have to carry the freight in London.

The U.S. can play multiple points guards at once. They can play multiple post players at once. Auriemma assembled depth and plans to burn through London with it.

"There are a lot of great players in the world and there are some unbelievable teams in the world," Auriemma said. "I'm going with the premise (that) we have a lot of good players, the other teams have a lot of good players. I like to think we have more of them.

"The gap between our first five and our next five may not be as great as some other countries. The only way I know how to (succeed) is to make sure we're up-tempo, create a lot of possessions. That's what they want to do, too."

Candace Parker represents the possibilities. At 6-foot-4, she plays three positions. Parker can post and shoot jumpers. She can handle the ball. At times, she will be America's slowest player on the floor, which will typically make her faster than at least three of her opponents.

"As athletic as we are, it would be a travesty to walk the ball up," Parker said.

Therein may be the key to holding off Lauren Jackson.

As much Storm pageantry as there was Saturday, Jackson was the elephant not in the room.

She's training with the Australian national team that has a focus on gold. The Aussies sit as America's biggest challenger. She's getting a jump-start on melding with her team while the U.S. conducts three scattershot days of practice in Seattle. There will be no multi-week training camp for the Americans.

Which leads Geno to being Geno, attempting a veiled shot the best he can.

"We don't have the opportunity to do that like every other team in the world does," Auriemma said. "Sue Bird's playing in Seattle this summer. Not everybody (Jackson) on Seattle's team is playing in Seattle this summer."

If the Americans do meet Australia in the gold-medal game, they hope to menace Jackson with depth and double-teams.

"You have to make her work hard on defense, tire her out that way," Parker said. "I think so many times, in the past, we've kind of allowed her to rest on defense. If we're playing up-tempo the way we're supposed to, then she's going to be running up and down with us too."

Parker and 6-foot-6 center Sylvia Fowles will be charged with stopping Jackson, something each has attempted multiple times in the WNBA.

"It's always a challenge guarding Lauren" Fowles said. "Me, I like a challenge, so I get excited every time I play against her. Either you're going to step up or get embarrassed, and I'm not too fond of getting embarrassed."

Other international teams may not be either, But it appears they will have little choice in London.

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