Terry Liskevych believed his U.S. Olympic women's volleyball players were ready for a full-throttle effort Wednesday night against China.
He was wrong.
Outplayed and outhustled from the start, the Americans lost 15-8, 15-2, 12-15, 15-12 before 15,100 in the Omni Coliseum.
"I'm a little concerned," said Liskevych, who hustled his team into a hallway for a short but tense meeting after the defeat. "We've been more inconsistent here than I thought we would be. We came out real flat tonight, and we paid for it."
The setback could dampen the U.S. women's gold-medal hopes. Now 2-1, they still are tied for second in Pool A behind China, which is 3-0. But if they lose again and slip out of the top two in their pool, they would face a much tougher road in the medal round next week, likely beginning with world champion Cuba or Russia in the quarterfinals.
After an embarrassing 15-2 second game, Tammy Liley helped bring the U.S. back into it with some monster spikes, finishing with 16 kills. Elaina Oden led the U.S. with 20 kills and three blocks. Slowly, the confusion and unforced errors began to diminish.
"If the ball's in your area, you've got to say, "I've got it,' and take it," Liley said. "There's a lack of communication. I think maybe we were a little more nervous because we knew they were better than Holland, better than Ukraine."
The United States had a stirring rally in the fourth set, scoring seven consecutive points behind Caren Kemner _ now a reserve _ to tie it at 11. The Americans fell behind 14-12, but held off match point four straight times, including three hard smashes into the middle of the court by middle blocker Elaina Oden.
China improved to 57-21 against the United States since 1983.
In other Pool A matches, the Netherlands routed Japan 15-3, 15-10, 15-3 and South Korea beat Ukraine 15-3, 15-10, 15-7. The rapidly improving Dutch had a strong attack to counter Japan's ball-handling and quickness. Henriette Weersing had 24 kills. The Dutch also had 11 blocks for points to just one for Japan.
In Pool B play, Germany easily defeated Canada 15-5, 15-12, 15-6; Brazil (the group leader with a 3-0 record) beat Russia 15-3, 15-11, 15-13; and Cuba defeated Peru 15-2, 15-5, 15-10.