SYDNEY -- At least somebody is taking the Big American Bully role seriously.
While the rest of the U.S. teams have stepped lightly around Sydney, winning small or even losing during early play at the 2000 Olympics, the women's basketball team continues to walk right over opponents as expected.
The Americans marched on Poland Sunday night, 75-57 at The Dome in Sydney's Olympic Park to complete pool play at 5-0 and move into the medal round with its reputation as the class of this competition still intact.
So far in Sydney, America has lost three times in softball, tied in women's soccer and had a scare in men's basketball that became its smallest margin of victory in Olympic play since sending professionals to the Games. But the hoop divas have maintained their distance from the rest of the world, winning their games by an average 24.8 points while leading the tournament in points scored and shooting percentage.
And they haven't even played particularly well yet.
"Obviously we're excited about this win, but I think we feel we're just starting the run now that we've gotten to the tournament round,'' said Cheryl Swoopes, who finished with 16 points Sunday to lead the U.S. "We didn't play as well as we would have liked in the second half, but that's because we had such a huge lead at halftime and let down.''
In doing so, they let Poland down softly.
After using a 12-0 run late in the first half to open a 32-14 lead, the U.S. led by 23 points at the break. They were less active in the second half and never appeared concerned when Poland closed to within 58-44 with nine minutes, 10 seconds left in the game.
The U.S. instead scored eight of the next 10 points to push their lead back to 20 two minutes later.
"We were just fouling too much, slowing down the game and letting them stay in it,'' said U.S. coach Nell Fortner. "As a coach, you don't want to lose that intensity and momentum. But we lost it and couldn't get it back.''
A heavy underdog, Poland stayed close for the first 10 minutes of the first half as seven-foot center Malgorzata Dydek took the middle away from the U.S. But Dydek went to the bench with Poland down by nine points 7:31 before halftime, and when she returned at the start of the second half, her team was out of the game.
"We had no chance to beat them because they are taller and stronger than we are,'' said Poland's Joanna Cuprys. "You can just go out on the court and try your best. I think our performance wasn't bad.''
Nor was the Americans', although they agreed it will have to improve now that one improbable loss would eliminate them from the tournament.
They open the medal round Wednesday against Slovakia and will need to win four more games for America's fourth gold in the last five Olympics. Since 1984, the only year the U.S. did not win the women's basketball tournament was 1992 in Barcelona.
They have only one goal this year.
"We know we can't let up in the tournament,'' said Swoopes, a member of the gold-winning team in 1996. "The good thing about this team is, we know that. We know we can't let down and we know what we have to do to get the job done in the tournament.''
And, unlike some other American teams in Sydney, they actually seem interested in doing it.
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