U.S. women’s basketball wants to preserve record


LONDON -- Lauren Jackson became the Olympics’ all-time leading women’s basketball scorer in Australia’s quarterfinal victory over China, which clinched a berth for her team in Thursday’s semifinal against familiar foe Team USA.

“She’s one of my good friends,” Sue Bird said of her WNBA teammate in Seattle. “I’m happy for her. But I still want to beat her.”

The U.S. women want to beat everyone, as much for history as for hardware. The 39-game Olympic winning streak it will tow into the semifinal includes three straight gold-medal victories over Australia. No wonder Jackson downplayed her individual record afterward.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the U.S. limited Australia to 25% shooting and cruised to a 27-point victory for its fourth straight gold. Team USA’s margin of victory at these Games has been a typically robust 37.7 points.

“We know we have a standard to uphold, and [we want to] honor the past Olympians and be role models for the future ones,” Candace Parker said. “We want to continue to play the way we were brought up in the USA basketball system.

“I know that I have not won the four golds. For people to say this is our streak, no. This is USA Basketball’s streak. We’re just trying not to be the people that end that streak. I want a second gold medal. There are people that want a third. And some are looking for their first. So all of us are fighting for something in our own way.”

The U.S. has used full-court pressure defensively and relentless depth offensively to overwhelm opponents. Australia features plenty of size in the 6-foot-5-inch Jackson, the 6-foot-4 Suzy Batkovic and the 6-foot-8 Elizabeth Cambage.

So Parker, who has been nursing a sore left ankle, and Sylvia Fowles, who has a banged-up knee, will have to augment Tina Charles inside. But this program has met every challenge over the last 20 years, starting its winning streak with a bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

“I think back to the [2006] World Championship when we lost” to Russia in the semifinals, Tamika Catchings said. “We went into that game thinking that nobody could touch us and that we could just walk on the court and win every game.

“That was a huge learning experience for all of us that were a part of that. Now it’s really a matter of telling the younger kids that every game is a different game. Every team is focused on winning the gold.”

Nevertheless, the U.S. has owned it since 1996 and counting.