RIO DE JANEIRO — Diana Taurasi and the U.S. women’s basketball team opened their Olympics with a record rout.
The Americans were not expected to be challenged on Sunday by Senegal, and the only real suspense was how many records they would set. When it ended, they had set three Olympic marks: Points scored in a game, margin of victory and assists.
The players and the US coaching staff were happy with how the team set the records.
With a team of WNBA MVPs and All-Stars, the Americans constantly made the extra pass on offense that led to open shots or layups in the 121-56 victory. Sue Bird had eight of the team’s US record 36 assists.
“When we move the ball like that and the ball doesn’t get stuck and the defense has to guard us at all five spots on the floor, that’s just a tough task for anybody,” U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. “Especially in the first half we shot the lights out, we shot great. … It was really fun.”
Well, maybe not for everyone.
The Brazilian fans tried to spur on the African country, cheering loudly every time they scored and booing the U.S. when the Americans had the ball. The fans even shouted down a brief U.S. chant with a Senegal one. The Americans were used to that having last played in Brazil in 2006 when they lost in the semifinals of the world championship. That’s the last time the U.S. lost a game in a major tournament.
“We played in Sao Paolo in the world championships and we played against Russia,” Bird said. “And it was in Brazil again and we lost that game, and the entire place was chanting Russia. I mean every single person. We’re used to that.”
It showed. The American reached the 100-point mark for the 15th time in Olympic history early in the fourth quarter and Breanna Stewart hit a 3-pointer with 3 minutes left to top the Olympic record 114 points the Americans had against China in 2012. They also broke the largest margin of victory in US history which had been a 60-point win over Zaire in 1996 .
“When you think about it, it’s really cool to know that history it went that far back and we were able to break it today in our first game,” Stewart said. “We hope to play even better in our next one.”
The Americans were a 57.5-point favorite coming into the contest. Taurasi swished her early 3-pointers as the U.S. raced out to a 27-5 lead. The Americans led 35-9 after the first quarter and by 43 at the half en route to a 42nd consecutive Olympic win.
Both US basketball teams opened with dominated victories. The women’s performance came less than 24 hours after the men’s team opened with a 57-point rout of China.
“More than anything, regardless of the score, it’s beautiful basketball. We’re sharing the ball,” Bird said. “I don’t even know how many points we scored, 100 and whatever. … We share the ball, we move the ball, we make the right plays at the right time, and that to me is a great brand of basketball.”
First-time Olympians Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Stewart all had their first taste of the Games. Griner had 14 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Stewart, who won four titles under Auriemma at UConn, scored 15 points, tied for the team lead with Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles. Stewart also had two on a nifty alley-oop layup from Bird. Delle Donne added 11.
“We looked around and said that the three of them played like they were Olympic veterans,” Auriemma said. “It didn’t look at all like there was any sign of nervousness or tentativeness or deferring to the other players. I was thoroughly impressed and really, really happy the way it played out for them. The perfect way for this to start.
Senegal was playing in its second Olympics. The African nation lost all six of its games in 2000. Nigeria is still the only African country to win an Olympic contest, getting a victory in 2004.
“I don’t think we’re really disappointed,” said Senegal guard Aya Traore, who played at Purdue on the 2005-06 Sweet 16 team. “This is the second time for Senegal to be in the Olympics, and for our group, this is the first time. So playing against the U.S., who’s been here every Olympics and world champions and last Olympic gold medalists, what can you expect more? For us, we’re just happy to be here. We learned a lot of things today and hopefully, we’re going to take the things with us moving forward.”
The Americans could face a little stiffer test Monday when they take on Spain.