Olympics notebook: USA men’s basketball dominates Venezuela
RIO DE JANEIRO -- The United States men's basketball team continued to steamroll toward a third straight Olympic gold medal as they thumped Venezuela 113-69 on Monday. The game marked the first time the U.S. and Venezuela, at number 22 the second...
RIO DE JANEIRO - The United States men’s basketball team continued to steamroll toward a third straight Olympic gold medal as they thumped Venezuela 113-69 on Monday.
The game marked the first time the U.S. and Venezuela, at number 22 the second-lowest ranked nation in the tournament, had ever met on the Olympic stage and the South American underdogs were at least able to walk off court with heads held high having battled their opponents to an 18-18 draw in the opening quarter.
But there was no panic from the U.S., who eventually showed their class while extending their Games’ winning streak to 19-0, a run of domination that dates back to the bronze medal game of the 2004 Athens Olympics.
“Trying to defend these great players, it is impossible to keep the intensity the whole game,” explained Venezuela coach Nestor Garcia. “We try not to give them a chance to run because when they run they kill.
“We believe we play with heart and pride against these people. We play the same against everybody, we don’t care if it’s the ‘Dream Team’ or Serbia, we try to be intense because we know the talent these teams have is great.
“If we don’t leave it all on the court, we don’t have any chance.”
Venezuela were back in the Olympics for the first time since 1992 and they were given no chance of pulling off an historic upset as they headed into Monday’s game.
For a very brief moment a whiff of an upset actually hung in the air at the Carioca Arena as Venezuela refused to surrender, matching their mighty opponents basket-for-basket going into the second quarter.
Then suddenly the United States shifted into another gear and left the Venezuelans in their dust, going on a 20-6 run to end the half and seize control of the contest.
“We weren’t worried, we just had to make some adjustments,” said U.S. captain Carmelo Anthony, when asked about the opening quarter. “We missed some shots early, played their game, but once we made those adjustments we were OK.”
Next up for the U.S. are 11th-ranked Australia (2-0), who earlier on Monday eased past Serbia 95-80.
U.S. women roll past Spain
After two routs to open the Olympic women’s basketball tournament, the question is not so much will the all-conquering United States win a sixth straight gold medal but will they ever lose again.
The U.S. followed up their drubbing of Senegal in their opener with a less ruthless but no less clinical 103-63 dissection of third-ranked Spain on Monday, blowing out a team viewed by many as a legitimate medal contender.
It seems as if nothing can stop the U.S. juggernaut as the mighty Americans ran their Olympic winning streak to 42 games, a 24-year stretch of domination dating back to the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games.
“You go into the game thinking that maybe today is the day you can beat them because it is not impossible,” offered a hopeful Spanish captain Laia Palau. “You just have to have a wonderful game on your side and they have to be, I don’t know, sick.”
Spain has never won an Olympic medal, but with an experienced lineup that includes two players earning a living in the WNBA they represented a huge step up in class following a 121-56 mugging of Senegal.
But like nearly every other nation that lines up against the United States, the Spaniards are still searching for their first-ever win.
The two countries have met nine times in Olympic and world championship competition, Team USA winning all nine including their three previous Summer Games encounters by a whopping average of 35 points.
“I haven’t been on many underdog teams in my career, but I do have an awareness of what it feels like when no matter what you do you have no chance, and it’s not a good feeling,” said U.S. captain Sue Bird. “But on the flip side there is also opportunity to upset, to make history, and that I am sure is in the back of all their minds.
Despite the difference in pedigree between Spain and Senegal, who are still chasing a first-ever Olympic win, the Group B contest unfolded in much the same fashion.
The U.S. took a few moments to shake off the cobwebs but quickly turned on the style as they sped to a commanding 54-37 halftime lead.
Once again the depth of Team USA was highlighted with all 12 players getting on the scoreboard, including five in double digits with Diana Taurasi leading the way with 13 points.
“We’re not easy to deal with obviously,” said U.S. coach Geno Auriemma. “Spain is a pretty good but when you look at our depth it starts to take its toll on the other team.
“That’s the pressure we can put on teams, everybody we bring in off the bench can score and make a play.
“It’s a good place we are in right now.”
U.S. swimming star Franklin laments poor showing in 200 meters
If there is anything that could wipe the smile off the face of the obstinately upbeat American swimmer Missy Franklin, it is a 13th place in a semifinal for the four-time Olympic champion.
Swimming’s golden girl of the 2012 London Games not only lost her smile, she broke down in tears after a dreadful showing in the women’s 200 meters freestyle on Monday that dashed her hopes for a place in the final.
“It’s so hard, knowing all the hard work you put in and then to get here and be so far behind,” the 21-year-old said, minutes after leaving the Rio pool.
“I’m just so disappointed that I feel like I left my team down,” she added.
It was a tremendous reversal four years after Franklin dazzled London, not just with her record-breaking swimming but also with her goofy teenage ways and utterly winning personality.
Franklin set records on her way to four golds and a bronze medal at her first Games. But for Rio 2016, she qualified in just two individual events - the 200 meters freestyle and 200 meters backstroke - at the trials in Omaha.
And she missed out completely on the 100 meters backstroke, one of her Olympic titles.
“I hope I still get a chance to be on that 4x200 freestyle relay, that would mean the world to me, and then I have the 200 backstroke,” she said.
“I am not done yet, I need to keep my head up and I need to keep fighting, and that is what I am going to do.”
Compounding the pain on Monday was Franklin’s belief that she did nothing wrong during the race or in her training.
“That is kind of how my year has gone,” she said. “I feel like I have worked as hard as I ever have and it just hasn’t been there. It’s incredibly frustrating.”
While Franklin looks to her remaining races, she seems to be cognizant that she is passing the baton to the new teen queen of swimming, fellow American Katie Ledecky, who qualified for the 200 meters freestyle final in second place.
“I know Katie is going to be amazing in this event,” Franklin said.
The 19-year-old Ledecky, no slouch in the happy swimmer category, tried her best to be upbeat about Franklin’s prospects.
“I know that she’s going to regroup and get ready for the relay and then her 200 back, and I know both those races will be good for her,” said Ledecky.