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Record crowd watches record blowout

History was made at the Georgia Dome on Thursday under unlikely circumstances. A weekday. A noon start. A hellacious Atlanta summer shower soaking the city.

Yet the largest crowd to ever see a women's basketball game _ 31,230 _ packed into the Dome.

"I didn't expect that," U.S. coach Tara Van Derveer said.

And you can be sure her opponent didn't.

The United States beat Zaire, the weakest team in their pool, 107-47. As exciting as the partisan crowd was for the Americans, that's how overwhelming it was for the women from Zaire.

"They were like, "What is going on?'

" said NBA center Dikembe Mutombo, the newest member of Atlanta Hawks.

Mutombo has taken the team from his native country _ the first African women's basketball team to reach the Olympics _ under his extremely large wing.

He saw a television campaign urging Americans to support Olympians and decided to help out. He has spent an estimated $15,000 on shoes, uniforms, clothing for the Opening Ceremonies, equipment and personal gifts. The team's coach, Mongamaluki Mozingo, also indicated Thursday that Mutombo, who signed a $56-million contract with the Hawks this month, would reimburse the team for its air fare to Atlanta.

Zaire is a poor country. And the players aren't used to such extravagance, usually making one pair of shoes last two or more years.

"In the NBA I change about 120 pairs a year," Mutombo said. "I told them to burn everything they brought with them. We went downtown and got shoes, uniforms, everything."

In Zaire, a basketball costs two months' salary. There are no indoor basketball courts, though there are some basketball facilities.

"Nothing like this," Mutombo said, glancing around the giant Georgia Dome.

Mutombo, who attended the game with teammate Gary Payton, visited "his girls" in the locker room after the game.

"I told them, "Keep your spirits up,' " he said. "Some of the girls say they're tired and want to go home. I said, "How can you be tired? The Olympics are three weeks long.' "

But playing the U.S. team is exhausting. The game reflected the different stories behind each team. The United States played like a team with the benefits of a yearlong training program and the top amenities.

The mismatch didn't stop the U.S. women from playing hard the whole game.

The 60-point margin was the most for a U.S. women's team in the Olympics, topping a 111-55 rout of Czechoslovakia in Barcelona in 1992.

"This team played with a lot of intensity," Van Derveer said. "It's a point of pride no matter who the opponent is."

The U.S. team is all about business when it steps on the court, Sheryl Swoopes said.

"Off the court, we feel sorrow because they're not as fortunate as us," she said. "But on the court we have a job to do."

The setting was a sharp contrast to the Americans' first two Olympic games at the Morehouse College arena, which seats 4,869.

"Nothing against Zaire, but it was good to have an easy game to get a feel for the place," Steding said.

The ease of the U.S. victory came at a good time, because VanDerveer was able to rest her starters for what's expected to be a tougher game with Australia on Saturday night.

Favored for the gold medal, the United States has won its three games by an average margin of 37 points. The biggest danger might be spoiling fans into expecting a blowout every time.

"I hope people don't start getting down on us if we have close games and don't win by 20 or 30 points," center Lisa Leslie said. "We're not going to win every game like this. We're going to play some good teams."

In other games Thursday, center Elen Shakirova scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as Russia (2-1) handed Italy its first loss, 75-70. Australia (3-0) beat Cuba 75-63 and Brazil (3-0) defeated Japan 100-80.