RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - With a 46-game Olympic win streak and 5 consecutive gold medals, the US women's basketball team will be a prohibitive favorite when medal-round knockout matches start Tuesday, August 16.
"There are so many great players doing great things, it's scary how good this team could become by the gold medal game," said US forward Seimone Augustus.
"We keep talking about peaking. We haven't reached our peak performance yet, so we've still got a lot left in the tank."
The unbeaten Americans (5-0) play Japan (3-2) in a Rio quarter-final match in hopes of a semi-final matchup with either France (3-2) or Canada (3-2).
The opposite bracket has unbeaten Australia (5-0) facing Serbia (2-3) with the winner meeting either Spain (4-1) or Turkey (3-2) in Thursday's other semi-final. The Aussie Opals took bronze in 2012 after 3 consecutive silvers behind the Americans.
Diana Taurasi led the US women with 14.2 points a game with Tina Charles adding 12.2 and Brittney Griner contributing 11.6. Sue Bird leads the team with 6.0 assists a game while Maya Moore has a team-high 6.0 rebounds as well as 4.4 assists a game.
Bird, Taurasi and Tamika Catchings can win their fourth consecutive Olympic gold medals to match the all-time record for any player, male or female.
"I'm feeling good about this team," said Catchings. "We're playing at such a high level right now. Every single game, every single practice, we've gotten so much better, moving the ball really well."
But there is no margin for error in the medal playoffs.
"There has to be a shift, because you can't make mistakes now," Bird said. "You have to be ready every single game and every team knows that. They are going to be playing with their backs to the wall as well and we have to be prepared for that."
The Americans are 86-1 from 1996 in Olympic and world championship games. Their only Olympic loss other than to Russian and former Soviet Union talent was to Japan in 1976 by 84-71.
Bird will face her Women's NBA Seattle Storm teammate Ramu Tokashiki, a forward who leads Japan with 17.6 points and 7.0 rebounds a game.
"I'm really proud of her. I know she's very excited," Bird said. "They worked really hard to get to this point. I'm excited to play against her."
'Just extra motivated'
Experience has played a major role in the US women's confidence and improvement as games roll along.
"We've been getting better every single game. We're looking forward to the next three games," Charles said.
"Pressure is when someone tells you to do something and you can't do it. This is a situation we've been able to do. We've won five gold medals in a row. So we're just extra motivated, because you want to get that sixth one."
There are still improvements the Americans want to make defensively to become even more formidable.
"Once we get together and get on the same page, it's going to be unbelievable," said US center Sylvia Fowles. "These next few games are going to be awesome."
And despite talking about playing three games, they vow no rival is being taken for granted.
"For sure not taking anybody for granted," Charles said. "You have respect for every team."
China coach Thomas Maher respects the US women after his team was rocked 105-62 in group play.
"The best team they ever had was the 1996 Olympic team. That team was unbelievable," the Australian said. "But I think this team is pretty close." – Rappler.com