LONDON (AFP) –
US Women’s NBA stars seek a fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal and bring a 33-game Olympic win streak into Saturday’s start of matches even as the 2012 team tries to make its own fame within the dynasty.
The Americans made unbeaten runs to gold at the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics after settling for a bronze medal in 1992 at Barcelona. They defeated Australia in the past three Olympic women’s basketball finals.
“There’s such a high standard when you come to the Olympics. We have a responsibility to play pretty well,” US playmaker Diana Taurasi said.
“I wouldn’t want to diminish anyone’s silver medals. It’s a great achievement. But we have one goal in mind.”
The Americans are in Group A for round-robin play along with China, Croatia, Angola, Turkey and the Czech Republic.
Group B has Australia, Russia, Britain, France, Brazil and Canada. The top four in each group reach the quarter-finals.
Saturday’s openers send the Americans against Croatia, Australia against Britain, China against Czech Republic, Canada against Russia, Turkey against Angola and France against Brazil.
US women are 50-3 with six gold medals overall while Soviet Union talent has captured the other three golds since women’s basketball’s 1976 debut. But this US team still has five round-robin and three playoff games between it and gold.
“Just because the past teams won gold medals doesn’t mean this team is going to do it. We’ll see if we can,” US guard Sue Bird said. “It’s about what this team can do. We’re trying to reach that goal just like every other team.”
Taurasi, Bird and Tamika Catchings each won gold in 2004 and 2008. A strained left hip had sidelined Taurasi for nearly two months until this week but she says she is fit and ready for the challenge ahead.
“The motivation has got to come. We know how good the other teams are,” said Taurasi. “Every time we come to a worlds or Olympics, there are more teams playing better, teams that are able to win medals.
“Russia is going to be a threat. Their people are in their prime. (Australians) are still going to be very difficult. When they are playing well they are tough to beat.”
USA Basketball put its win streak in the hands of Geno Auriemma, coach of the University of Connecticut, a program that set a US college record of 90 wins in a row in 2010 and one that produced six of the 12 US Olympic players.
“At Connecticut, the presumption is we’re going to win every game,” said Auriemma.
Taurasi helped fuel one streak under Auriemma and now can extend another.
“There’s just an incredible legacy of winning and I don’t think she is going to let anything get in the way of continuing it,” Auriemma said.
Burning in her memory is a 2006 world championship loss to Russia, where she plays in a pro league as well.
“All you have to say to Sue and Tamika and myself is ’06 against Russia. We didn’t play well and we lost,” Taurasi said. “Sometimes you just don’t have it. And we have to have it every night.”
In terms of growing the sport globally for women, Auriemma warns that the Americans cannot simply keep winning, but must win with style and flair.
“If it’s ugly, we’re going to harm the game more than help it,” he said. “Just winning won’t be good enough to raise the bar.”