By DOUG FEINBERG,  AP Basketball Writer

LONDON (AP) _ Diana Taurasi and the U.S. women’s basketball team
open play Saturday against a team they just pounded by 54 points.

Not that the opponent matters.

Taurasi and the rest of the squad say they’re just ready to

The U.S. begins its quest for a fifth straight gold medal
against Croatia, which the Americans beat 109-55 a week ago in

“We’re anxious to finally get on the court and play and get rid
of those feelings of being anxious and nervous or whatever feelings
anyone on the team has,” Taurasi said. “The only way to get them
out is to play in games. We’ll be ready.”

The U.S. has only had two weeks together to train since the WNBA
season went on its Olympic hiatus. But anything less than another
gold medal would be considered a colossal failure for the
overwhelming favorite.

“We have one goal in mind and that’s to win,” said point guard
Sue Bird, who will be playing in her third Olympics. “For us, I
think with our limited training time even as we start the games,
the learning part is not over. We have to take each game and
improve. I know people will say we’re playing Croatia– ‘they beat
them by 54’– it’s another opportunity to play together and get

“That’s how we’ll keep progressing.”

Despite the lopsided victory seven days ago, Taurasi expects the
Croatians will play better on Saturday.

“It means nothing,” Taurasi said of the exhibition blowout.

“I think we’ve been around plenty of tournaments and plenty of
competitions where that means nothing. They are going to come play
their best basketball tomorrow and we expect that and we need to do
the same thing.”

Croatia’s star center Marija Vrsaljko will play after missing
the rout because she was getting married.

“She makes everyone else better,” coach Geno Auriemma said of
Vrsaljko. “We’re going in with the idea that they are really good
and they’ll be better than they were in Istanbul. We’ll concentrate
on ourselves and what we need to do. Kind of use it as another way
to practice and get better. Meantime while we’re doing that, win
the game.”

Auriemma said he’s ready for the games to begin after spending
the last four years preparing for them. He’s won over 800 games and
seven national championships at Connecticut, but there’s a
nervousness that has hit the first-time Olympic head coach.

“The waiting, you know, that’s what gets you,” Auriemma said.

“You have too many thoughts that go through your mind. while
you’re doing it you don’t feel it. Leading up to doing it, that’s
when the butterflies and stuff starts to get to you.”

While the gold medal game is still two weeks away, Auriemma can
see the finish in sight.

“We’re finally near the end of this marathon, now it’s just a
sprint to the finish,” he said. “The players and coaches and
everybody we just want to play. We waited all this time and had all
this travel, we just want to play. We’re not where we want to be,
or need to be but we’re not where we’re going to be. we’re going to
play ourselves to where we want to be and tomorrow’s the first day
of that.”

By the time they reached London on July 25, the team had
traveled 6,750 miles, hitting three countries in just 10 days.

“That’s absolutely huge that we’re in the same place, not
packing again for awhile,” Auriemma said. “We know what our
routine is. Game, practice, game, practice, game. Everybody gets a
chance to get their body in rhythm with the Olympics. I think
that’s going to benefit everybody.”

The U.S. will also face Angola, China, Turkey and the Czech
Republic in pool play. The Americans beat the Czechs in the finals
of the 2010 world championship to qualify for the London Games.
Follow Doug Feinberg on Twitter at

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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