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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Taurasi powers U.S. into the semifinals

Former UConn star Diana Taurasi had 15 points, three rebounds and four assists as the United States crushed Canada 91-48 in the Olympic quarterfinals.

Candace Parker had 12 points and seven rebounds, Sylvia Fowles added 12 points while Angel McCoughtry and former UConn star Maya Moore added 11 points with Tamika Catchings contributing nine points, six rebounds and four steals as the U.S. advances to the semifinals to play Australia.

The U.S. set the tone by coming out with a swarming defense to fluster a young Canadian squad as the U.S. forced 26 turnovers and had 15 steals.

I(t is the fourth straight Olympics that Australia will play the U.S. in the medal round but after meeting in the gold-medal game in 2000, 2004 and 2008, this time the showdown would happen in the semifinals with the losing team being relegated to playing in the bronze-medal game.

Here are some quotes (courtesy of USA Basketball) from UConn and U.S. coach Geno Auriemma, xxxxx


GENO AURIEMMA

I thought it went great. Going into the game, we as coaches were very aware that every game that Canada has played in this tournament, two or three possessions in each of those games could have affected the game. They were in every game to the end, and their style of play makes you play at their pace, gets you caught up in their style of ball control and limiting how many opportunities you get. So we talked a lot about how we wanted to create the tempo that we wanted and I think right from the beginning we did that, and it just continued the whole game. I thought our defense has been as good as it’s been at any time since the tournament started, so I was really pleased, really happy with the way our players played today.
On how he keeps the team on edge:
We have a really good group of people on our team that don’t necessarily need a lot of motivation – some do, don’t get me wrong, but for the most part, we’ve got a really good group of individuals that are motivated to do a lot of things. Sue, Dianna and Tamika Catchings are trying to win their third gold medal. That puts them in real unique company. So, I don’t really have to say much to them to keep them on edge. Then, we have five players that this is their first Olympics. They’re as excited as you can imagine. It really doesn’t take a lot from me, but I do my part. I try – not like I do at home – I’m much more British, I’m much more reserved and understated with this team than I would be if I was home. So far it’s working.
On why he told the team it was fun to watch against China:
When the team is coming together, you know who the individuals are and you know what they are capable of doing, but you never quite sure whether it is actually going to happen, because they all have their own personalities, they all have their own egos; that’s how they got be where they are now – great players. So you hope that they are the right people, not the right players. It’s easy to get players, but it’s hard to get players who are the right people.  I’ve been fortunate to be around some of these players for a long time … in other scenarios, but never in the Olympics.  So, I envisioned something like what happened in the China game happening, and when I saw it happen I was like a fan. I just sat there and watched and I was like, “man, I know I’m probably speaking for everyone who is watching this game.” It’s fun to watch when we are playing like that, it really is.
On the possibility of playing Australia in the semis:
I’ve had a chance to compete as a coach against Australia a bunch of time sin the four years that I’ve been with the program. In the World Championships I was surprised they didn’t make it to the semifinals. They were knocked out early and it was a big upset. So, I’m not part of that whole … it’s preordained that you are going to play Australia in the final because that’s just the way it’s been for a long, long time. We are going to play whoever wins – Australia or China. If it’s Australia, great; if it’s China, great. Right now, we are not really that concerned with who it is. Whoever it is, that’s who it is. I’m not going home tonight wishing one team wins over the other. There are some teams internationally who try to create those scenarios where they get the team that they want to play by doing things that are maybe a little shady. And it ends up coming back and biting you in the butt, so I really don’t care who we play.
On whether it was more defensively than offensively:
The last couple of games, maybe not the last couple, maybe every game, our defense has been bad for maybe the first five or six minutes. China scored 28 points or something like that in the first quarter against us. And they scored eight in the second quarter. So, we did talk about how we need to limit the number of three in the first quarter so that we don’t allow the other team to feel a comfort level like “hey, I think we can play with the United States.” So, for us everything stems from the defense. And today our defense was great, mixed it up just enough, gave them a couple of different looks. This team competes really, really hard. And when we do that on the defensive end … when you’ve got, every one of these guys is a great offensive player on their own team. How many national players of the year in college are on this team? They don’t need to be shown how to score. But you’ve got to draw up some things for them defensively because that may not have been their forte in college or in the pros. I don’t think a lot people made this team because they are great defenders.
On the team’s goals during the Olympics:
The goal thing, that’s a hard one to kind of wrap yourself around as they say, because there is only one goal: to win the gold. That’s the only reason we are here. Not every team comes to the Olympics to win a gold medal. It’s just not possible for some teams to win a gold medal. They know that and we know that. So maybe their goal is maybe for the first time to get to the medal round, for the first time get to the semifinals. So their goals are, I think, much more realistic at times with where they come from and what the tradition and history of their programs are. Where we come from, in the U.S., there is only one goal: to win the gold medal. Everything else, if you win the gold medal, all the other stuff that could have been a goal is going to happen. And we talked about this, too. The men’s team had that Road to Redemption thing because of what happened in Greece. So in Beijing they went to the Road of Redemption, because that made sense for them. Somebody put some shirts ion our room last week, saying Road to Respect and I thought that’s kind of dumb, that’s kind of dumb. Sue’s won two gold medals and she’s won two WNBA championships, and she’s won probably a million European championships or Russian championships, and world championships for the U.S. And two national championships at UConn. If they don’t respect her by now, and all those other players, screw them. We don’t need T-shirts or goals to say we have a slogan. We have won slogan: Earning respect from your teammates, your coaching staff, and your opponent. Other than that, I could care less whether anybody else respects what we are doing.    
On the relationship between the United States and Canada after last night’s soccer game and today’s basketball game:
Well, I’m sure the Brits, having two of their former colonies playing against each other, were hoping the roof would fall in and we’d all lose. I think it shows how important women’s sports are on this side of the Atlantic. Women’s sports are really important in the United States, as they are in Canada. Last night, tonight, and the way Canada has played in these Olympics in women’s basketball and women’s soccer is a perfect example of that. These two countries put a lot of money and a lot of resources into their national teams. And, they’re getting the reward for doing that. You can honestly say not every country does that.
On knowing your team only becomes a huge story if you lose being a sign of respect to the level of dominance the women’s team has achieved:
The big story is if we don’t play well and only win by a couple. We played a game for the ages against China, in terms of how well we played and executed, and somebody left a USA Today international lying around, and I picked it up to read about the Olympics, and there wasn’t one line or one sentence written about that game the next day. Not one. But, the top 10 preseason college football poll was in there, so that was really good, because I’m a college football fan. That goes back to what I said earlier. I think we have the mindset that we really don’t care. We’re way past that. There are no feminists on my team. We’re not running around burning our bras trying to make people believe in our team. I would burn mine, because it doesn’t fit like it used to. We just play basketball. And whether anybody cares or writes anything about it, there’s nothing we can do about it. We’re not in the PR business. We’re in the basketball business. That’s what we do. And, we’re pretty damn good at it.

SUE BIRD

Thoughts on the game:
Just like coach said, it’s a team that wants to play at their pace, and I thought for the first time, maybe in this Olympics, we got out to an early, aggressive start, and put our style of play on to them and forced them to play at our pace, which against Canada is a big feat. I’ve played against them numerous times in my career. It is not an easy team to guard, play with; they are very tough and they run their offense; they make you work. I thought we made them work for the majority of this game.
On Coach telling the team it was fun to watch them against China:
It’s nice to hear that. I think for this team, we’ve only been together, at this point I’m not really sure, a month maybe. And we knew we had to come together quickly, and at first you have some players maybe not wanting to step on each other’s toes, maybe a little tentative. You saw it in some of early games – Croatia. And to actually get to a point where your coach has been harping on some things, complimenting you in that way, it felt good. And I think that game was really a turning point for us, and what you’ve seen from us since then is us playing the kind of basketball we need to play to win the gold medal and getting better each game. So, like I said, it felt very good.
On the possibility of playing Australia in the semis:
I kind of agree. Obviously, the last couple of Olympics, more than a couple, we’ve faced Australia in the finals, and people expect that. But I can just say for us, historically in my experience, the semifinals game has been the most difficult. It’s the game where if you lose you get nothing in terms of the gold medal. So, it’s the game that is probably the hardest to play in the tournament for whatever reason. That being said, Australia, if it is Australia, is going to be a tough matchup. So we are just going to play whoever wins.     
On the team’s slow starts prior to today:
It’s definitely something we talked about. I think sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint why certain things happen, but with this team what I have felt is just the comfort level – us being comfortable with one another, being able to go out and play at a high level, play aggressively. And I think when you are a little uncertain or unsure it can kind of take away from that intensity.  Tonight, the game plan was pretty simple, like we talked about: We wanted to impose our style. I think that first group that started just went out there and tried to do that to best of our ability; didn’t think about anything else.
On playing against Lauren Jackson and her potentially setting the Olympics scoring record: 
My standard answer is I’m just glad I don’t have to guard her. She’s a pain in the butt and I’ve seen it time and time again. She’s very difficult to go up against. When we play against her, I know she’s going to try to set some really hard screens. I’m going to try and avoid that. Like I said, I’m glad we don’t have to guard each other. It could be a little awkward since we are such good friends. As far as from a fans’ standpoint, her breaking the record, like I said, she’s one of my good friends and what she’s done for Australian basketball and basketball in the world is really tremendous; and for her to break that record, I would be really happy for her. There’s not many players as deserving as she is to do something like that.
On the team’s goals during the Olympics:
We don’t really talk about that stuff; we just talk about winning. And I think the beauty of this team is really how talented we are, and if you put that first – assists records, point records, those types of things – they just going to happen naturally. That speaks to our depth, our talent, maybe a little coaching (laughter). I think that just happens and I know that’s the standpoint I come from. You go out there, play your hardest, do your best -- all the clichés you can think of – and good things are going to happen. That’s how much I believe in this team     
On the thrill of playing in tight games in the Olympics:
I feel like I’ve experienced that. Speaking of the last Olympics, and semifinal games, the last Olympics semifinal game, I can’t give you the score, but I know it came down to the last few possessions. And, even though I didn’t play very much in 2004, the semifinals and finals came down to the last few minutes. Maybe not a halfcourt shot, or a last second tap in, but there’s been drama. You don’t really wish for that. You just go out there and see what happens.
On the differences in Coach Auriemma’s coaching style from when Bird played for him in college:
I think his strategy, his mentality, the mindset, his expectations, his standards, those kinds of things, those haven’t changed one bit. They’re exactly the same. Obviously, there are some changes here and there, different schemes, everybody over time, you add things, changes things. But, the way he expects his players to play, what he wants from us, that hasn’t changed a bit. And I think with the National Team as opposed to UConn, maybe how he delivers the message is a little different. I think he respects that we’re older. We’re not in college anymore, that kind of thing. So, maybe the way he delivers the message might be different, but it’s the same message 100 percent.

MAYA MOORE

On the team’s defensive philosophy:
It is all of our responsibilities to stop everyone. If there are key players on their team like Kim Smith, who knocks down open shots, it is everyone’s responsibility. If we are playing defense and I get switched onto her, it’s my job not to let her get what she wants. I come in, I try to bring energy, I know coach likes to put me out there to run the floor, offensive rebound and bring energy. That’s what I tried to do and hopefully I will continue to do that.
Does the defense come from the coaches pushing you or is it inherent?
I think it’s definitely the players, our competiveness and the fact that we take getting scored on personally. We don’t want people to score on us. I think that is just the competitive nature of these 12 players and what is inside of us. It is definitely enhanced by Coach Auriemma’s pressure, his expectation, his communication with us on our strategies and different things like that. It is definitely a team effort but it starts inside of each player to want to play tenacious defense.
Do you take pride in forcing opponents to take shot clock violations?
Definitely, shot clock violations are huge momentum builders for the team and every single person on the floor needs to be doing their job in order to get a shot clock violation. Getting a few of those in a game really builds us up.
Can you talk about your new role as a starter today?
I take great responsibility every time I am on the court whether that is the first five (minutes), the last five, or the middle five.  Wherever Coach Auriemma puts me out there, I am going to try and do my job to the best of my ability and bring energy to the team.

DIANA TAURASI

On the USA team and effort:
There’s a concerted effort on a team like this, where you know you just have to play harder. Not saying you don’t play hard for your other teams, but you have to play harder when you’re on this team. And if you don’t, you stand out.
On the responsibility the veterans feel to set an example for the younger generation:
I’m more of a pirate, I guess. I play basketball because I love it. I don’t think about the implications, or anything. I just try to go out there and ball out.
On whether she would consider playing in another Olympics:
I’m not that old. I’m only 30.
On getting off to a slow start offensively, but the defense being very strong:
It’s starting to get a little better with each game. Everyone is really starting to grab onto what we’re trying to do. And sometimes that takes a little bit longer. We don’t have that much time to go over every little single thing, so we have to learn it on the fly. Sometimes, we look like we might be a little lost out there, because we’re still getting used to playing with each other, but every game, I feel like we’ve tightened things up on both ends.

On the importance of defense being more of a key moving forward:
Yeah, that really needs to be our focus, and I think, with USA Basketball, we always talk about the points and how many offensive-minded players we have, but that’s the flipside when you play for the national team. Everyone becomes a great defensive player. That’s one thing that everyone takes a lot of pride in.
On playing stronger defense due to being more rested and playing in spurts:
There’s something to be said for that. Each player goes back to the WNBA, they have to score 20, get seven and seven. You want me to also pick up full court? You’re crazy. It’s not going to happen. Here, your minutes are probably a little more limited, so you can expend a little more energy on the things that don’t take any talent to do, and then, hopefully, our ability to make shots and be great offensive players kind of just comes naturally.



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