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Diana Taurasi wanted no part of a competitive contest in Team USA Women’s Basketball’s third visit to the preliminary round. With Team Serbia – winless in 2016 Olympics action thus far – threatening to make things interesting in the first half, Taurasi decided to lock in.
Shooting for her fourth career gold medal, Taurasi nailed four of her first five three-pointers to help stave off a Serbian run that saw the underdogs take a 17-16 lead at one point. Just four minutes into the second quarter Taurasi hit her fifth three-pointer of the game, tying her Team USA record for three-pointers in a game, before swishing her record-breaking sixth just minutes into the second half.
She would finish with 25 points on 7-12 shooting from the floor, a team high despite sitting the final quarter and a half of what would become a 110-84 Team USA victory. Taurasi, already a women’s basketball legend, is now shooting 58.3 percent from behind the arc through three undefeated games in the Olympic preliminary round.
Serbia put up a fight, notching a 12-20 mark from long range on its own, forcing 20 turnovers (17 through three-quarters) and ably countering the Team USA attack with small ball for spurts. Sonja Petrovic, a guard/forward for the Phoenix Mercury, finished tied with a team-high 15 points alongside former Nebraska product Danielle Page and Jelena Milovanovic.
Ana Dabovic, the Serbian team’s only other WNBA representative (the Los Angeles Sparks), missed five of seven shots on her way toward five points.
Minutes were scarce for WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne (two points, three assists, four fouls), famously coming off the bench for a loaded Team USA team in her first Olympiad, because of Taurasi’s hot hand in the first. No matter, as fellow first-timer Breanna Stewart finished second on the squad with 17 points off the bench, finishing off broken plays and staying aggressive offensively. The same could be said for veteran Tina Stewart (15 points, eight rebounds, four assists) in the first half and do-it-all forward Maya Moore (10 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals) throughout.
The game belonged to Taurasi, though, who notched 22 points by halftime and had a fantastic chance to down Lisa Leslie’s record 35-point performance against Japan from the 1996 Olympics. Leslie, however, was the face of a soon-to-be-introduced WNBA at the time, and women’s basketball needed the burst of publicity, even in a blowout game.
Team USA coach Geno Auriemma, whom Taurasi worked with at the University of Connecticut between 2000 and 2004, felt little need to keep his vet on the pine in order to work up even more records, especially after starting the second half with a 22-point lead.
As a result, Team USA remains undefeated. With the knowledge that it will be the veterans – Taurasi, Charles, and helpers like Moore and Angel McCoughtry – that will have the biggest impact in leading this team to gold over its relative neophytes that line that talent-laden bench.
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