Bird directs potent US offense
LONDON (AP) — Geno Auriemma has been watching Sue Bird play basketball for a long time, so he notices all the small things she does to help her team win.
Very quietly, Bird is having a big impact on the U.S. women’s team in London.
‘‘You'll notice her after the fact on a pass she made, a 3-pointer that she made at the absolute perfect time,’’ said Auriemma, who is relying on Bird to run his offense once again after he coached her at Connecticut. ‘‘The rest of the team knows that. It could be something she says right at the time it needs to be said on the bench or in the huddle.’’
Bird, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, has helped the U.S. cruise through pool play winning by an average of 37 points. But the stakes are higher now, with the Americans facing Canada on Tuesday in the first game of the single-elimination quarterfinals.
Diana Taurasi, who like Bird is playing in her third Olympics, knows her backcourt partner will pick her scoring when needed.
‘‘It’s coming,’’ Taurasi said. ‘‘There’s going to be a time and place where Sue is going to take and make big shots for us. With this many scorers, she’s our only true facilitator and passer. We need that from her.’’
Bird, who is averaging five assists and 4.6 points, has taken over the leadership mantle along with Taurasi and Tamika Catchings.
The three veterans have different styles of leadership and the U.S. likely will need each approach before the tournament ends.
‘‘Sue’s subtle and effective, Diana’s very sledge hammer and very effective and Tamika just plays, doesn’t say much, doesn’t draw a lot of attention. She just plays,’’ Auriemma said. ‘‘I said to Dee this morning, we looked really good when you knock down five shots in the first quarter. Everyone else let’s out a sigh of relief. Having those vets step up, that’s huge.
‘‘If we get Tamika, Dee and Sue all playing great everyone else just fills in.’’
‘‘It’s one and done,’’ Bird said. ‘‘You can’t overlook that, you can’t have a bad night. I think really, the way I took that you have to make sure you’re ready to play. In the pool play, if we lost we'd still advance. Now you have to come and play in every single game.’’
While Taurasi deferred to her teammates early on in pool play, she’s been more aggressive on offense lately. She had 22 in the Americans’ 114-66 win over China on Sunday that clinched the top spot in the group.
‘‘We’re at the point in the tournament now where she has to be Diana and not worry about everybody else,’’ Auriemma said. ‘‘Just worry about yourself and everything will be OK.’’
Unlike its opponent, Canada is in uncharted territory. America’s northern neighbor is playing in its first quarterfinal.
‘‘Canada has been in every single game and they finished fourth,’’ Auriemma said. ‘‘They've had a chance in every game. It’s the kind of tournament where you've got to play well every night. For us we’re a little fortunate that we’re a little deeper.’’
Canada has several players on its roster who played college basketball in the U.S., including Courtnay Pilypaitis (Vermont), Lizanne Murphy (Hofstra) and Kim Smith and Shona Thorburn from Utah. The Canadians also have two current college players: Utah’s Michelle Plouffe and Notre Dame’s Natalie Achonwa.
Canada was the last team to earn a spot in the London Games, finishing fifth at the final FIBA qualifier. The Canadians know they'll need to play really well to have a chance for what would be a monumental upset.
‘‘It’s probably a foregone conclusion, but we’re going to go play,’’ Canada coach Alison McNeill said. ‘‘We’re going to play hard and do the best we can do to win. They’re unbelievably good. We've played with Russia and Australia, so can we play with them? We’re about to find out.’’
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