Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012 | midnight
Tina Charles is leading the way inside, to where the big girls play.
With 6-foot-5 center Sylvia Fowles resting a sore left foot, Charles has become the U.S. women's basketball team's leading rebounder in her first Olympics.
She has always been an aggressive player, but now seems even more determined.
And her U.S. teammates are following her lead.
The Americans used a team effort to dominate the boards in an 88-61 victory over the Czech Republic on Friday.
"We did a good job offensive rebounding when we weren't making shots," said center Candace Parker. "We've got to continue to do that."
Especially since the U.S. might have a tougher time Sunday against China, which is led by 6-6 center Chen Nan.
The Americans, however, have run past their opponents, winning by huge margins each time they step on the floor. So it's difficult to find any real flaws in their performance.
But like all coaches, Geno Auriemma has. Rebounding.
And his team has responded.
The 6-foot-4 Charles finished with a game-high 15 boards Friday and the U.S. outrebounded the Czechs 62-39, including 27 on the offensive end.
"Coach definitely put an emphasis of getting on the offensive boards," said Charles, who grabbed 15 rebounds and had 16 points. "We got to keep doing that."
Diana Taurasi scored 18 points to lead the Americans (4-0), who have now won 37 straight games in the Olympics. The U.S. started slow but looked fresh after its first day off since getting together on July 14 to start training for the London Games.
The Czechs jumped out to a quick lead scoring the first 10 points of the game in just two minutes. It was the Americans' biggest deficit in the Olympics since they trailed the Czechs 13-2 in the opener of the 2008 Beijing Games. They went on to win that game by 40 points.
"We had a little bit of a tough time getting shots to go in and the Czech Republic team did a great job of hitting their threes," Maya Moore said of the Americans' slow start. "We just try to stay aggressive. It's about when the other team hits you, you gotta get back up and figure out a way to overcome it. And that's what we did."
The Czech Republic also played the U.S. tight for a half in the 2010 world championship gold medal game, trailing by five at the break. The U.S. won that contest by 20.
The Czechs led 26-24 after the first quarter after hitting six of their first 10 3-point attempts. They didn't hit another 3-pointer the rest of the game, missing their final 11 attempts.
While the Czechs went cold, the Americans heated up behind Charles and Catchings.
Trailing 30-26, the Americans scored 22 of the next 28 points to go up 48-36 with 2:18 left in the half. Catchings and Charles each had six points during the burst. Catchings' layup off a fullcourt pass from Moore gave the U.S. a 31-30 lead. After a Czech basket, Charles scored six straight and the U.S. never trailed again.
The Americans led 48-38 at the half and put the game away with a 20-3 run to start the second half. Taurasi hit two 3-pointers during the spurt.
The Czechs couldn't get within 20 points of the U.S. the rest of the way.
"Throughout the whole game I think our defensive intensity picked up," Catchings said. "The third quarter was probably one of the best third quarters we've had since we've been playing together. Now we've just got it going in the first half, start the game off that way."
Michaela Zrustova scored 15 points to lead the Czech Republic.
"Very tough game," said Eva Viteckova, who finished with 12 points. "Our main problems was the rebounding, they had 22 more rebounds than us (actually 23). They also have a very good fast break.
"It's always very difficult to play against the Americans, we know we can never be winners against them, they are so much better. But we started very well and maybe they were surprised by our performances.
"They can be beaten, if the other team has a very good day and they (the U.S.) has a very bad day."
While the U.S. has already clinched a spot in the quarterfinals, the Czechs (1-2) still are trying to advance.
They made a surprising run to the silver medal at the worlds, knocking off defending champion Australia in the quarterfinals before losing to the U.S. in the title game. The Czech Republic was definitely buoyed in that tournament by its home crowd that included President Vaclav Klaus for the championship game.
The Americans will close out pool play Sunday against China, which was routed by Turkey 82-55.
Also Friday, Australia's Liz Cambage had the play of the day _ maybe of the Olympic women's basketball tournament when she dunked in the Aussies' 70-66 win over Russia. Canada advanced to the quarterfinals with a 79-73 victory over Brazil. Croatia routed Angola 75-56; and France edged Britain 80-77 in overtime.