THE SEOUL GAMES : Women's Basketball : U.S. Ousts Soviets on Way to Final, 102-88

Times Staff Writer

Those two supposedly competitive superpowers, meeting in a sort of Olympic basketball doubleheader, tangled Tuesday and here's the score after the opener:

United States 1, Soviet Union 0.

The Russian Bear, or in this case, Momma Bear, got her snout spanked. The little Coop-a-Loop--former USC star Cynthia Cooper--scored 27 points and the U.S. women, who once went 29 years without beating the Soviets, dropped them for the third straight time in major competition, 102-88, proving that the tide of history has turned.

More tangibly, it put the United States in Thursday's final against Yugoslavia, a 57-56 victor over dark-horse Australia Tuesday on a last-second rebound basket by guard Andelija Arbutina.

The United States has already played the Yugoslavs here, routing them, 101-74, so you have to like the Americans' chances.

So, apparently or unconsciously, does Yugoslav Coach Milan Vasojevic.

"This dramatic game was hunting for a big animal--a silver medal," he said jubilantly through an interpeter after his victory.

"Hunting for a big animal," the interpreter explained, is a Yugoslav idiom, the Serbo-Croatian version of "Go for it."

But why the silver? How does he like his chances of winning the gold?

"We have to play a lot, a lot better," Vasojevic said. "I am sure we will.

"I always think we win, not lose, so that's my opinion going to this match. What will be, will be."

Absolutely.

The United States didn't field a women's team until the 1976 Olympics and in its first time out, in Montreal, was beaten, 112-77, by the Soviets and 7-foot 2-inch Ulyana Semenova. By the '80s, however, the United States had developed a generation of quick players who were about to change the way the game was played.

In 1986, a team with Cheryl Miller and nine of the players on this team, smashed the Soviets twice in the Soviet Union, in the Friendship Games and the World Championships, the first U.S. victories over a Soviet women's national team since 1957.

Tuesday's game merely confirmed the notion: The Americans are playing on a higher level.

They led by 17 midway through the first half Tuesday, saw the Soviets cut it to 65-60 in the second half, then spurted away again after a basket by . . .

Guess who?

The one, the only Teresa Edwards.

Edwards was the tournament's leading scorer until taking only 7 shots in the third-game cruise past China. Edwards is indifferent to the usual ego concerns, but lights up in game situations. With the Soviets closing, she stepped up again, hitting a tricky layup on a hesitation move, drawing the foul and making the free throw. See you later, and bring on the Soviet men.

"We were anticipating playing the Soviets in the gold-medal game," Cooper said later. "Since things turned around a little (Australia upset the Soviets), we had to get ourselves ready 2 days early.

"If you want to say it, or anybody else wants to say it, this was our gold-medal game."

The Soviet men and Coach Alexander Gomelsky were actually close by, sitting behind the bench, rooting their sisters on.

The U.S. men were nowhere in sight. Where could they have been?

Resting?

Practicing?

Under lock and key?

Wherever. The marquee half of this twin bill is Wednesday, and history waits for no man.

Basketball Notes

U.S. Coach Kay Yow, on the seeming mismatch in the finals: "That was the first thing I talked about in the locker room. Coming in, we thought our paths might cross with the Soviets, but we'd play 'em in the finals. That didn't happen. But the players on this Yugoslav team won the world championship as juniors; they won the World University Games last year. They have a lot of incentive for this game." . . . One reason why it doesn't have to be a mismatch: In the first meeting, the Yugoslavs lost their 6-6 center and leading scorer, Razija Mujanovic, when they were trailing 17-16.

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