The U.S. Women's Olympic Basketball Team (6-0) overpowered Greece (2-4) 102-72 in a quarterfinal contest on Wednesday in Athens. The win advances the U.S. to the Aug. 27 medal semifinals where it will face Russia (5-1), which topped the Czech Republic (3-3) 70-49 this evening. The semis will be held on Friday afternoon (Greece time) at 2:30 and 4:45 p.m.
Shannon Johnson (South Carolina / San Antonio Silver Stars) and Tina Thompson (Southern Cal / Houston Comets) led the win with 21 and 20 points, respectively. Yolanda Griffith (Florida Atlantic / Sacramento Monarchs) had a game-high 11 rebounds and was one of six players in double digits with 14 points. Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) added 13 points and Lisa Leslie (Southern Cal / L.A. Sparks) and Sheryl Swoopes (Texas Tech / Comets) contributed 12 points each. Thompson dished out a team high five assists.
Anastasia Kostaki led all scorers with 26 points and had a game-high eight assists. Maria Samoroukova pulled down seven rebounds.
"We were sitting on the bench and all of the sudden we were up 20," said Sue Bird (UConn '02 / Seattle Storm). "You have to give them a lot of credit - they played very hard and made some incredible shots. But when we are cooking like that, I don't think people can keep up."
Leading from wire to wire, the United States looked to three different players as it took a 6-0 lead to start the game. Greece finally got on the board thanks to a pair of free throws by Kostaki at 8:29 and by the 6:54 mark the USA's edge was 10-7. Putting together a 9-3 spurt, capped by a 3-pointer from Taurasi at 5:00, it looked as if Greece would be out of the game early, 19-10.
However, the home team went on its biggest run of the game and knocked the USA's lead to two, 19-17, with 2:33 to go in the first quarter. With four seconds to go in the stanza and the U.S. up 24-19, Taurasi stole the ball, got it to Swoopes, who was fouled. Swoopes converted on the three-point play, kicking off a 13-0 run that ended with seven straight points from Griffith and with 8:02 to play in the half the Americans owned the game 37-19. Continuing to pull away with the help of Griffith, who notched 11 of her 14 points in the second quarter alone, the red, white and blue went up 55-34 at halftime.
Outscoring Greece 21-19 in the third quarter and 26-19 in the fourth, the USA squad easily advanced to the medal semifinals.
"That atmosphere really made it feel like the Olympics for me," Taurasi noted. "The spirit of the crowd and all the people screaming made it really fun."
"When you are on the Olympic team, you have to put all personal goals aside and focus on one thing - Coach Chancellor is great at helping with that," she added.
Swin Cash (UConn '02 / Detroit Shock) and Taurasi grabbed three rebounds each. Bird and Cash each scored three points.
The USA was without the services of Katie Smith (Ohio State / Minnesota Lynx), who tore cartilage in her right knee during the Aug. 22 game against China.
"There is definitely no love loss between us and Russia," Cash said. "It would be a great matchup - they having been waiting since the World Championships to get another chance to play us. We'll have to see what happens."
In the other quarterfinals, Brazil edged Spain, 67-63, and Australia crowned New Zealand, 94-55.
Nigeria (1-5) won its first game yesterday and finished in 11th place after defeating South Korea (0-6) 68-64. China (2-4) took 9th place with an 82-63 decision over Japan (1-5).
With the victory over Greece, the U.S. upped its Olympic winning streak to 23 games, dating back to the 1992 bronze medal contest. The USA now owns a 40-3 overall record (.930 winning percentage) in Olympic competition and has won a record four golds, one silver and one bronze medal in the six previous Olympic basketball competitions in which the U.S. competed.
The United States, which earned the silver medal at the inaugural Olympic women's basketball tournament in 1976, earned its first gold at the ‘84 Games in Los Angeles, collected gold again in Seoul in ‘88, and captured back-to-back golds with unblemished 8-0 records in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.
USA Basketball contributed to this report.