The US women’s basketball team extended their Olympics winning streak to 34 games spanning 20 years with an 81-56 win against Croatia on Saturday, but that was not a streak that mattered to US coach Geno Auriemma.
“Right now, the only winning streak that we’re talking about is try to win one in a row, eight times. If we can get that streak, then we’ll be really happy,” Auriemma told reporters about a stretch of victories that would clinch London gold. “We’re not going to think about what the other teams did in the Olympics. That’s not who we are, that was somebody else.”
Winners of the last four Olympic titles since their last Games loss in 1992, the US team survived a scare on the opening day of competition from Croatia, who are competing in the Olympic women’s tournament for the first time.
The US led by just three points at intermission and by 53-47 going into the final quarter before pulling away as they wore down the game Croats with their depth of talent.
“It’s the 12 best players in the world,” Croatian coach Stipe Bralic said. “Maybe the best women’s team in the world ever. We played very well for 30, 32 minutes, but it’s a 40-minute game.”
Croatia, who did not score their first points until eight minutes were gone in the game, used a 14-0 second-quarter run to push past the US and battled them late into the contest before the US team shifted into high gear.
A balanced US attack was led by Tina Charles with 14 points, with bench player Angel McCoughtry scoring 13, Candace Parker 11 and Tamika Catchings adding 10 as the winners made the most of their deep squad.
“We have 10, 11 players that can come off the bench or start,” Auriemma said. “I think that might have been the difference. I think the Croatian team got a little bit tired towards the end of the game. That’s one of the advantages of the United States.”
“We have good players, but we have more of them. I thought that tonight that was the difference,” he said. “We can play better.”
Croatia scored the first bucket of the fourth quarter before the US ran off 13 points in a row and the rout was on.
Croatia stayed close using a one-two punch of Jelena Ivezic from the outside and Marija Vrsaljko inside. Ivezic scored 22 points, including three three-pointers in the second quarter, while Vrsaljko contributed 19 point on 8-of-11 shooting.
The US beat Croatia by 54 points last week in an exhibition game in which they were missing Vrsaljko, who had other plans.
“Vrsaljko, she got married last Saturday. She couldn’t change her date,” coach Bralic said, adding that she made the plans before knowing she would have a ticket to London. “Nobody was expecting Croatia to be playing at the Olympics.”
Vrsaljko said Croatia were energized by their showing against the US.
“They are very good, but I think we are also good,” she said. “The other teams, it’s not going to be easy playing with us.”