Why the U.S. women are beatable
LONDON -- Diana Taurasi has never shied away from a microphone or been afraid to speak precisely what is on her mind. So when asked on Thursday about the one-of-a-kind style coach Geno Auriemma brings to game of women's basketball, Taurasi put things in the most unique of perspectives. "It's not all fluffy fluffy women's basketball," she said. "It's not all about skirts and cupcakes. Sometimes, there's steak and cussing going on. And that's life. It's not pretty all the time. It can be ugly sometimes." In other words, in a women's game where certain coaches might be sensitive to feelings and emotions and not upsetting the fragile psyche of a young woman, Auriemma doesn't mince words. He brings a man's mentality to the women's game in a T-bone and whisky sort of way. And Taurasi loves it. Now comes the question of whether one of the greatest coaches in women's basketball history can add the title of Olympic champion to his resume. The talent-stoked team that Auriemma will lead to the floor for Saturday's opening game against Croatia is an overwhelming favorite to win gold. Heck, the U.S. bench would probably be the favorite to stand atop the medal podium. The U.S. women have not lost in the Olympics since 1992, a 33-game win streak that has brought four straight gold medals. But like Auriemma and many of the six Connecticut Huskies on this roster learned in college, all streaks eventually come to an end. The goal over the next two weeks is to make sure it isn't this one. Not in Auriemma's first Olympics as the U.S. coach. "Streaks come in a lot of different shapes, sizes and forms," Auriemma said. "DiMaggio's, that was his, he did it by himself and it was all 56 games. My streak doesn't exist with this program. I'm trying to win one in a row eight times." The biggest challenge for the U.S. will be a potential lack of chemistry. While much of the world has spent months prepping for London, Auriemma's squad will have had just 10 practices when they take the floor on Saturday. And three of those were back in May. Though it wasn't the most enjoyable of topics, Sue Bird admitted Thursday that, yes, the ingredients for a potential U.S. loss are more than there. This team isn't unbeatable. The ingredients come in the form of complacency, human nature after prolonged success. Then you factor in the lack of experience playing together. And the fact that it's a one-and-done tournament. Lose and you go home. Put it all together and the unthinkable could happen. Maybe. "It just takes one game. One bad game," Bird said. In the WNBA, in the Euro League, generally there's a series. A three-game or five-game series. That would be harder to beat a team like us. But one game? Anything can happen. That's why we need to make sure we're ready to go." The U.S. women went undefeated in four exhibitions before arriving in London on Wednesday, its narrowest margin of victory a 19-point win over Turkey on Sunday. Still, the streak, the gold medal. At this point it's all out of sight, out of mind. "If you don't talk about the streak, if you don't dwell on it or harp on it then it really doesn't exist except in the minds of other people," Auriemma said. "We haven't talked about it one time. Not one single time." Instead, many of the players remind themselves of the 2006 World Championships, when the U.S. lost to Russia in the semifinals and didn't even make the gold-medal game. "You can't look too far ahead," Taurasi said. "We can sit here and talk about how we want to win gold. And yeah, we want to win gold. But to do that you have to take care of Monday. Take care of Wednesday. If you want to take care of gold right now you're not going to get there." Taurasi insisted that with Auriemma at the helm, it's not likely to happen. And Mr. Steak and Colorful Language himself said the same about his players, specifically Taurasi, Bird and Tamika Catchings. "I've been around Diana enough to know that if right now you challenge her who could write faster, she would take that up as a huge challenge," he said. "Her competitiveness is unlike anybody I've ever seen. Sue and Tamika are exactly the same. They are not going to become overconfident and settle for ever walking through anything."