Hopefully, challenges await the US

The USA women’s basketball team is off to a great start in these Olympic games. After a “what the heck?” moment to start on Saturday morning, they proceeded to demolish the Czech Rebublic, 97-57. This morning the team took on China, decisively beating them 108-63. The men’s team did the same thing to China yesterday, annihlating them. It’s what we’ve grown used to, being a part of a country where basketball is so prevalent and so rewarded: dominance.

But I hate lopsided blow-out games. I’m hoping that our women’s team will get more challenges than they’ve faced so far.

I haven’t had a chance to see all the teams, as broadcasting begins at 6 p.m. Pacific and wraps up some 13-14 hours later. But looking at the scores and reading what has been written, Australia might be the only serious challenge to the US. They looked solid when I saw them Friday night, and they’re the only other team besides ours that has beat opponents by decisive margins in both games so far. Since Australia is on the other side of the bracket, it is anticipated that the US and the Aussies will face one another for the gold. Thus, it’s possible that the only challenging game for our women will be the last one.

As a longtime student of the game, I know better than to count any team out. It’s possible that Mali, Spain or New Zealand – the latter two of which aren’t bad teams at all – could each have a great game in the next few days and take the US down to the wire. I actually hope this happens. Because while I don’t want the women to suffer the same fate as the men’s team did in Athens four years ago, neither do I want them to simply waltz to the gold.

Last month I began re-reading Sara Corbett’s book “Venus to the Hoop,” which chronicles the story of the 1996 women’s basketball team’s journey to the gold medal at the Atlanta games. This was when female basketball players first started becoming well-known and developing a significant fan base. This was also a time when the gold was not guaranteed for the US. As the team toured parts of the world in preparation for the games (something that doesn’t happen anymore), they were fearful of certain opponents, and sized them up in preparation for the Olympics.

Fast-forward 12 years and there is a WNBA so deep now that sometimes even great players get cut. A league which players from all over the world come to play in. As for US college basketball teams? Their level of play is becoming so skilled and physical that 2008 was the deepest graduating class ever. Our Olympic team has two of those players on it right now. And the US women have taken the gold ever since that first one in 1996.

That’s some dominance. I just pray that it doesn’t lead to complacency.

Many a piece has been written in the last week about how humble and sweet the men’s team is this Olympics; about how they’re working unselfishly, as a team. Women’s hoops fans like to think that arrogance and a “take-for-granted” attitude couldn’t happen to their favorite teams, but it could. We’re all human and we’re all competitive. And as we saw last month, women can fight during games, too.

I want the US women to have to be challenged – at least a little – in their remaining games because I think a bit of adversity is good for people. It builds character, not to mention appreciation.

On a personal note, I have to give props to Sylvia Fowles, who has had two great games in a row and seems to be showing how much she missed playing when she was injured. Welcome back, Big Syl.

And I will finally be watching Wednesday’s game live, as it starts at 7:15 a.m. and not 5 a.m.

Go USA! May your journey be at least a little difficult.

– Sue F