(TNS) SAITAMA, Japan — It was Dawn Staley’s turn.
Just like Gregg Popovich, her counterpart on the bench for the American men’s basketball team, did at the start of the Olympics, Staley rejected the notion that U.S. victories should look easy.
The women’s 93-82 win over France looked like it was supposed to, even if that meant there were plenty of tense moments into the fourth quarter.
“Does everyone want us to come out and blow everybody out?” Staley asked. “Some people do. They feel like that is supposed to happen. Well, for us, we know we’re in a dogfight every time we step on the court. To even think that, it’s a disservice to women’s basketball and you really haven’t been watching.”
It hasn’t looked particularly easy for either the men or the women in these Olympics. The men lost their opener to France after struggling in their pre-tournament exhibitions. The women also lost before the Olympics, though they’ve managed to end group play undefeated.
Both enter the knockout phase of the Olympics this week, with the men playing Spain on Tuesday in what could easily be a tight game between two teams incredibly familiar with each other.
The women will play Australia — which beat them in an exhibition on July 16 — in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
You don’t need to strain to see what Staley and Popovich have spoken about, the challenges their respective teams face in the hunt for gold and the potential vulnerabilities in their teams.
With the U.S. men, it’s fairly obvious. The team was put together but didn’t get time to come together, the NBA Finals keeping Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Devin Booker from training until arriving in Japan.
Of the three, Holiday has played the best, moving into the starting lineup and being the team’s point-of-attack defender. He’ll likely track Ricky Rubio against Spain, with the NBA veteran averaging 21.3 points and 7.3 assists.
“It fits,” he said when asked about his skills translating to international play. “I feel like I’m here to assist. I’m here to rebound. I’m here to make plays for other people.”
Then there’s the issue of the size of the U.S. players, an aspect the Czech Republic targeted in their game with the U.S. on Saturday. France has a proven track record of success against them (they’re on the other side of the bracket) and could be an issue for the Americans in the medal round.
If the U.S. can beat Spain, they’ll play the winner of Australia-Argentina, the Australians having already beaten the Americans during this exhibition cycle.
“This Olympics is just going to get better as far as basketball teams,” Popovich said, aware of the difficult games ahead.