LONDON (AP) — Tina Charles and Candace Parker each had double-doubles and Angel McCoughtry provided a spark off the bench to help the U.S. women’s team overcome a sloppy performance Saturday to beat Croatia 81-56 in their Olympic opener.
Coach Geno Auriemma had said he was hoping that the Americans could play a style of basketball that would be entertaining and help grow the women’s game internationally. That didn’t happen Saturday.
The U.S. struggled for the first three quarters before pulling away to win their 34th consecutive Olympic contest.
The victory was far different than the 54-point pounding the Americans gave Croatia a week earlier.
Despite missing its first 14 shots, Croatia hung tough for the first 30 minutes before the Americans finally could pull away.
The U.S., which has dominated its opponents en route to the last four gold medals, only led 53-49 early in the fourth quarter before a 16-0 run put the game out of reach.
McCoughtry started the burst with consecutive layups and Tamika Catchings capped it with a three-point play that made it 69-49. Swin Cash, who hadn’t played in the first few quarters also had a three-point play in the spurt.
McCoughtry finished with 13 points. Charles had 14 points and 10 rebounds; Parker finished with 11 points and 13 boards.
Jelena Ivezic scored 22 points and Marija Vrsaljko added 19 for Croatia, which was making its Olympic debut. Vrsaljko missed the previous contest last Saturday as she was getting married. While the Americans had their way on offense in that contest, they struggled Saturday.
The U.S. built a 9-0 lead early on as Croatia missed its first 14 shots. The Americans could have been up a lot more, but missed a lot of easy shots and turned the ball over. The U.S. finished with 21 turnovers.
Vrsaljko finally got the Croatians on the board with a lay-in with 2 minutes left in the first quarter. The U.S. built its lead to 21-9 and looked poised to take command early before going cold from the floor.
Croatia scored the next 14 points, capped by Luca Ivankovic’s lay-in that gave the team it’s first lead of the game, 23-21. Ivezic’s 3 minutes later made it 26-23.
Diana Taurasi had seen enough, hitting consecutive 3s to restore the Americans’ advantage. The U.S. led 31-28 at the half.
It was the second straight Olympics that the Americans struggled in their opener. They trailed the Czech Republic 13-2 before winning by 40 at the Beijing Games.
The U.S. men’s basketball team, who are also heavy favorites to win the gold, didn’t make the women’s opener. They had practice at the same time. The two teams marched together in the opening ceremonies and are staying in the same hotel
Next up for the U.S. is Angola, which lost to Turkey 72-50 in its first Olympic debut. The Americans will also face China, Turkey and the Czech Republic in pool play. The U.S. beat the Czechs in the finals of the 2010 world championship to qualify for the London Games.
The Czech Republic lost its pool opener, falling to China 66-57. In other early games Saturday, Russia rallied past Canada 58-53. Brazil played France and Australia met Britain later Saturday night.