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Published Jul. 6, 2006

Nancy Lieberman-Cline, a former Olympian and recent inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame, spoke with Times staff writer Brian Landman and offered her analysis of the U.S. women's basketball team against the world.

Obviously, the Unified Team (Russia) and Brazil will be tough. And even though (the U.S.) has appeared to have an easy time with the Chinese in exhibitions, they'll be tough, too. And Cuba is always pretty tough because they can match our athleticism.

Teams like the Unified Team and China, they have more precision (than raw athletic ability). I think that's what hurts us. They have such good chemistry. They're like one mind. They just know where the other person is going to be all the time, and that's certainly a benefit.

But for the first time, we're getting an opportunity, for lack of a better word, to get on the same page with one another in the mental aspect of the game. Instead of April, the tryouts, and boom, all of a sudden there's your team, we've been together (as a national team for more than a year).

What the United States has done is too long in coming, but it's going to give us a real opportunity to reclaim the gold medal. We certainly have the talent. We certainly have the coaching. The area we were lacking, team chemistry and time together, we have an opportunity for.

When we were playing basketball in '76, '77, '78, we were all college kids who had to play defense every time; we had to hustle. That's where we had our advantage. What's happened is our kids graduate college and go to Europe where the coaching's not that good and the American kids aren't paid to play defense; they're paid to be scorers.

All those little things about defense that were honed in weren't as sharp when they came back (for the Olympics, etc.). We have lost a lot of our advantage on the defensive end, not the offensive end.