The U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team is staying on the same luxury cruise ship as the men’s team, the 160-room Silver Cloud, which is docked at Pier Maua across town from the Athletes’ Village.
And, like the men, the U.S. women remain undefeated and are heavy favorites to win the gold medal after knocking off upstart Japan 110-64 on Tuesday night in the quarterfinals, holding the Japanese to 18 second-half points.
The American women’s accomplishments are mind-blowing. They have beaten their six opponents by an average of 40 points. They are likely to win their sixth gold medal in a row, and eighth overall. They are riding a 47-game Olympic win streak, during which only one game was decided by single digits.
The American men, by contrast, squeaked by their past two opponents by three points.
Despite their dominance, the U.S. women get a fraction of the attention received by their NBA counterparts — and by U.S. swimmers, women’s soccer players, gymnasts and track stars for that matter.
They don’t complain. They just keep winning.
Asked if she thinks the team gets the credit it deserves, guard Diana Taurasi smiled and replied: “We’ve been asked that a lot, and it’s not up to us. There’s only so much we can put on Instagram.”
On Thursday night they faced a height-challenged crafty Japanese team that has been a big surprise at these Games. The average height on the Japanese roster is 5-10, and the U.S. average height is 6-2, with five players 6-4 or taller, including 6-6 Miami native Sylvia Fowles.
But Japan played at a breakneck pace early on, shot 64 percent from three-point range in the first half (7 of 11) and closed to within two of the United States two minutes before intermission. The Americans didn’t panic. They answered with a 10-2 run to take a 56-46 lead into halftime.
“Japan is here for a reason, they move the ball in transition and everybody can shoot on their team, so it wasn’t a fluke why there were here, but we have a complete 12 that can step up and that was the separation,” said Fowles, who scored 10 points and had six rebounds in 17 minutes.
Separation, indeed. The Americans scored 10 unanswered points to open a 16-point lead. Then they blew the game open in the fourth quarter, outscoring Japan 29-5. Japan was 2 of 21 the last quarter.
“In the last 17 minutes of the game, it was pretty amazing,” U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. “That was a pretty amazing brand of basketball against a really good team. When D [Taurasi] got the ball moving, everyone taking shots from all over the floor, that was pretty to watch.”
Taurasi and Maya Moore led the U.S. with 19 points apiece, Angel McCoughtry added 13, Elena Delle Donne had 11 and Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus had 10. The only bad news was that captain Sue Bird injured her knee and her status is unknown for the semifinal.
Asked the secret to this team’s success, Fowles said: “We have a lot of All-Stars who can put their pride aside and just come out and play team basketball.”
Auriemma was asked how he manages the intense expectations of the U.S. women’s team and his University of Connecticut team, both of which are expected to win every game. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that I’m on a run right now, like a big run at the casino, where you go and you’re playing blackjack and it keeps going your way, keeps going your way, and you know if you stay there long enough, it’s going to turn.”
Maybe so, but it is unlikely the run will end at these Olympics.
The Americans appear to have a clear path to gold after Australia’s shocking 73-71 quarterfinal loss to Serbia on Tuesday. The Opals are ranked No. 2 in the world and had won a medal in every Olympics since 1992. The U.S. team beat Australia for the gold medal in 2000, 2004 and 2008.
However, the spunky 14th-ranked Serbians — led by WNA players Ana Dabovic (Los Angeles Sparks) and Sonja Petrovic (Phoenix Mercury) — pulled off the upset.
Serbia plays Spain in the semifinals. The United States faces the winner of the France-Canada game.