United States 108, Japan 93
ATLANTA (AP) _ Lisa Leslie was too tall, too talented and simply too much for Japan, and the U.S. women’s basketball team is only two wins away from the gold medal.
The fluid 6-foot-5 center, who once scored 101 points in one half of a high school game, didn’t threaten that figure Wednesday. But she did score 35, a U.S. women’s Olympic record, as the United States cruised into the basketball semifinals with a 108-93 victory over Japan.
``I just took a lot of really easy shots and made them,″ said Leslie, who was 16-for-21 from the field. ``I’m excited about setting an Olympic record. Really, I thought they only existed in track and field.″
Leslie used a 5-inch advantage on her tallest defender in topping Medina Dixon’s mark of 28 points against Spain in the 1992 Barcelona Games.
All but one of Leslie’s field goals came on shots right around the basket. In fact, it was a layup fest for the entire U.S. team, which used a devastating fast break, keyed by Teresa Edwards, to control the game from the start. The Americans got 41 inside baskets to 12 for Japan.
``That was the type of game I expected,″ U.S. coach Tara VanDerveer said. ``We did a good job getting the ball inside.″
Now comes a rematch with Australia on Friday, with a berth in Sunday’s gold-medal game at stake. Australia (4-2), which advanced with a 74-70 overtime victory over Russia, lost 96-79 to the Americans in pool play.
The United States also beat the Aussies three times during a May tournament Down Under. That gave Australian coach Thomas Maher a pretty good idea of the challenge that awaits his team.
``Offensively, we have to slow them down,″ Maher said. ``We probably can’t beat them if they get 130 points on us.″
While Leslie dominated the Japanese, who have only two players as tall as 6 feet, she got plenty of help. Katrina McClain tied the U.S. Olympic mark with 16 rebounds and also had 18 points.
Edwards added 12 assists, Nikki McCray came off the bench to score 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting and Venus Lacy made all four of her shots in scoring 10 points.
But after winning its first five games by an average of 34 points, the U.S. team still had to work defensively against Japan’s perpetual-motion offense and 3-point shooting.
Although the United States was in no danger of losing, the 15-point margin was its smallest in Atlanta, and Japan’s 93 points were the most scored against an American team that had been allowing just 68 a game.
The Japanese made the United States stretch its defense by driving into the lane and then passing outside for two-handed set shots. That shot disappeared from U.S. basketball decades ago, but it works for the Japanese.
``Oriental players have smaller hands and we don’t have much power,″ said Japan’s coach, Fumikazu Nakagawa. ``I only look at the success rate. It doesn’t matter with one hand or two. If you score, that’s good.″
Japan scored plenty on the United States, going 13-of-32 from 3-point range and shooting 47 percent overall.
``Give Japan credit,″ VanDerveer said. ``They got down, didn’t give up and got back in the game. Our team played great in spurts.″
One of those spurts came early as the United States took a 30-17 lead. The first 12 U.S. baskets were layups or other close-in shots and the sequence generally went like this: rebound, outlet pass, fast break, basket.
``They didn’t have much size, so we just took it inside,″ McCray said. ``Our post players really stepped it up today and we just ran whenever we could.″
Even with the United States’ inside dominance, Japan (2-4) managed to avoid a blowout.
Down 79-51 after the Americans began the second half with a 20-7 run, the Japanese stayed with their outside game and drew to 87-74 on a 3-pointer with 7:04 left by Aki Ichijo _ who folds her left leg up after every shot and is nicknamed ``The Flamingo.″
But that’s as close as it got. VanDerveer called a timeout and the United States responded with five layups during the next 2 1/2 minutes to go up 98-79.
Ichijo and Mikiko Hagiwara led Japan with 22 points each.