Challenged for the first time in the Olympics, the U.S. women's basketball team looked to its veterans for help. As usual, Katrina McClain and Teresa Edwards answered.
The former University of Georgia teammates led the way as the unbeaten United States turned back Australia 96-79 Saturday night to clinch first place in its preliminary pool.
McClain, playing in her third Olympics, scored 16 of her 24 points in the second half. Edwards, a four-time Olympian, came through with 20 points, 15 assists and 7 rebounds. She was 7-for-8 from the field and McClain was 12-for-14.
"Teresa and Katrina have been there before," U.S. coach Tara VanDerveer said. "They did really step it up for us. They put the team on their backs."
A Georgia Dome crowd of 33,952 saw the U.S. team wear down the Australians with its size, quickness and, most notably, its depth.
The Australians led by six points in the first half and trailed by only three at halftime. They continued to keep it close in the second as Michelle Timms, who scored 26 points, hit three straight three-pointers and a
layup, cutting it to 60-58 with 15:56 left.
Then, the U.S. team finally kicked into high gear.
Sheryl Swoopes hit a three-pointer and two free throws to start a 16-4 run that stretched the lead to 76-62 with 10:15 remaining.
In other games, Italy clinched a spot in the medal round with a 66-52 win over Japan. Ukraine beat Cuba 87-75 and South Korea beat Zaire 95-71.