By Mike Bresnahan, Tribune Newspapers
6:06 PM EDT, July 28, 2012
A handful of journalists were on hand to watch the U.S. women's basketball team win its Olympic opener against Croatia.
It was an obvious contrast to the crammed news conference the previous day for the U.S. men's team, where reporters scurried toward Kobe Bryant and LeBron James before packing into a dense semi-circle seven or eight people deep.
"This is more physical than our games," Bryant quipped as media members pushed and shoved one another. "I've seen at least two flagrant fouls."
Not only is the women's team up against Croatia, the Czech Republic, etc. There's overwhelming competition from that other U.S. team.
The women beat Croatia on Saturday, 81-56, and won their 34th consecutive Olympic game. Maybe there will be more journalists to see No. 35 on Monday against Angola. Probably not.
"I have my theories," U.S. Coach Geno Auriemma said. "I think when you live in the United States and you're a great women's basketball player or you're a great women's basketball team, you happen to live in a country where the best basketball players in the world live — the men's team — and the best basketball team in the world lives. So you're always going to be compared to that team or those players and you're always going to come up short."
It doesn't help international interest that the women's team is 51-3 since the sport was introduced in the Olympics in 1976. The men had some well-publicized national disasters during that span, failing to win gold medals in 1988 and 2004.
"When it comes time to the Olympics, it's like, 'Yeah, they're going to win,' " Auriemma said of the women's team. "That's unfair to these players and those that have come before them. The only story that's going to come out of these Olympics is if we lose. And that'll be a big story. Then the U.S. women will be very, very popular all over the world."
The U.S. certainly didn't look sharp Saturday, stumbling for three quarters and leading by exactly four points with 9:02 to play at the Olympic Park basketball arena.
It was particularly strange because the U.S. beat Croatia by 54 points in an exhibition a week earlier.
But reserves Angel McCoughtry (St. Frances) and Swin Cash started a 16-0 run to push the U.S. lead to 69-49 with 5:58 to play.
McCoughtry had back-to-back baskets down low and Cash added a three-point play. Croatia faded quickly after that. The U.S. won the fourth quarter, 28-9.
In Team USA's easy victory last week, one of Croatia's top players, Marija Vrsaljko, missed the game because she was getting married. She had 19 points Saturday.
Tina Charles had 14 points for the U.S. and McCoughtry finished with 13. The slow start was erased.
"We're pros and we've all been in these positions before whether with our [WNBA] teams back home or in college," Charles said. "Everything's not going to be a blowout just because we're Team USA."
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