US women eye 5th straight Olympic basketball gold

Beijing, July 9 (IANS) The US women's basketball team is aiming for the country's fifth straight Olympic gold medal at the London Games.

Winning by an average margin of 38 points per game at the Beijing Games, the US team moved one step closer to be one of the greatest Olympic outfits.

The squad includes seven players who have already been to the Olympics and won golds. Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings are all trying for a third straight gold medal while Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus won gold in Beijing.

Joining the veterans is Swin Cash, who also has an Olympic gold medal on her resume, winning one in 2004.

Maya More, Lindsay Whalen, Tina Charles, Asjha Jones and Angel McCoughtry will be making their first appearance in the Olympics. However, all the five newcomers played in the 2010 world championship, in which the team claimed the title to secure an Olympic spot

"We have an opportunity to have one of the greatest Olympic teams all-time with the combination of players with the depth, experience and youth," said head coach Geno Auriemma, who led the University of Connecticut Huskies women's basketball team to seven NCAA Division national championships and an American-longest 90-match winning streak.

With nearly half the roster coming from his Connecticut Huskies team, Auriemma will find it tough for him if the team failed to repeat what they have done in the past four Olympics. But this team also has its Achilles heel.

While the Australians, US' biggest rivals, and other strong teams have been training for months, the Americans have only been training together for a short period. They had a three-day training camp in Seattle in May and then will spend two weeks together before their first group match against Croatia July 28.

After losing the last three Olympic finals, Australia's biggest star Lauren Jackson decided not to play for the first three months of the WNBA season and instead train with her teammates to prepare for the London Games. As the only foreign player who have ever won a WNBA MVP reward (and three times), Jackson is trying to win her first Olympic gold.

The Americans and Australians wouldn't meet until the qualification round as they are in different groups. The biggest game in the preliminary round could be between Australia and Russia, with the winners likely to avoid the Americans until the final.

The Australians will be missing star Penny Taylor who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, while Russia will have the full roster which helped it to top the 2011 European Women's Basketball Championship. Becky Hammon, who was born in South Dakota, United States, is once again playing for Russia after the 2008 Beijing Games, where she paced the team to a bronze medal.

The Czech Republic might be the dark horses in London. As the runners-up of the 2010 Worlds, the Czechs advanced to top eight at both Beijing and Athens Games.

The group match of women's basketball starts July 28 and the final will take place August 11.

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