BEIJING -- Unbeknownst to the United States women’s basketball team, they had a strong Olympic Games debut in front of their President on Saturday night. President George W. Bush made a surprise appearance during the American’s 97-57 blowout victory over Czech Republic.
Bush is slated to watch the United States’ men’s basketball team play its debut contest against host China on Sunday. USA Basketball didn’t know that Bush was attending the women’s debut until Saturday afternoon and the players didn’t know he was there until afterward. He sat next to USA Basketball president Val Ackerman in a private section of the stands and departed with the U.S. ahead comfortably 75-44 after three quarters at the contest at Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium.
“We did not know until after the game, so that was pretty cool,” said USA forward-center Lisa Leslie, who had 4 points and 10 rebounds.
Czech Republic actually opened to a strong 8-0 start. The Americans’ first basket came on a Diana Taurasi fall away jumper with 6:37 left in the first quarter to trim the Czech Republic’s lead to 10-2. After being down 13-2, USA finished the first with a 22-17 lead and never was in trouble after that.
Taurasi, a former Connecticut star, scored a game-high 17 points after making 7-of-13 shots and nailing two free throws. USA reserve center Sylvia Fowles also had 16 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks while reserve guard Cappie Pondexter added 12 points. The Americans shot 52 percent from the field, caused 27 turnovers and out-rebounded their foes 41-32.
“We started off probably a C-, but we ended up probably a B+,” said USA forward Tina Thompson, who had 7 points.
USA men’s basketball team was also in attendance during the game. But during halftime, there was a security concern that nearly got out of hand as fans tried take pictures and get as close to Team USA as possible while they sat in a private section. Both USA basketball teams have bonded during practice sessions and meals at Beijing Normal University.
“We are one family,” Thompson said. “We support each other all the way through. We have one goal and that’s to win the gold medal. So we are going to be behind each other the whole way.”
The Americans return to action tomorrow night to play host China. China defeated Spain 67-64 in its opener after receiving 15 points and 12 rebounds by Lan Bian.
“We are definitely looking forward to playing China,” Leslie said. “This is their home country and they want to leave out of (the Olympics) with a medal. We don’t want that to happen. It will be a great challenge for us.
“And when you look at their fans, they’re going to have home court advantage so to speak. We have to be on top of our game.”