U.S. Women Prepare for Sydney

Tuesday, August 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Smiling wistfully, Ruthie Bolton-Holifield remembers how it was in 1996.

She remembers the victories, the way the U.S. women's basketball team showcased its skills and overwhelmed opponents with its depth while winning every game, 60 in all counting exhibitions, en route to the gold medal in the Atlanta Olympics.

Now a member of the team that will try for the gold in Sydney, Bolton-Holifield is hoping this new group, which still has six players from '96, can play like its predecessor.

``I want us to be a team that's so relentless when teams play us they're literally afraid,'' Bolton-Holifield said. ``The USA team, they're quick, they're energetic. You can't just stop one or two players and beat them. They've got subs coming off the bench that are just as good.

``That's the reputation I want us to have.''

The U.S. team will continue its task of building toward that when it plays the Canadian Olympic team Tuesday night. It will be the Americans' first game since they reassembled a week ago following the end of the WNBA season, and the team still isn't complete.

Because of the WNBA playoffs, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and DeLisha Milton won't be coming on board until later.

So don't look for a team that's humming like a finely tuned machine. There may be a few coughs and sputters for a while, though that's not a worry for coach Nell Fortner at this point.

``It's too early right now,'' said Fortner, who went to high school in New Braunfels, 25 miles to the northeast. ``If we were sharp right now, I'd be concerned because we couldn't maintain that until the end of September.''

Tuesday night's game is the first of nine the United States will play in the last leg of its journey to Sydney. The U.S. team also meets the Canadians on Wednesday night in Dallas and Saturday night in Oakland, Calif.

It's a welcome test for players who need to get back to the international style after almost four months away from it.

``We definitely have a lot of talent,'' Bolton-Holifield said. ``I think it's a matter of knowing how to put the talent together, of working together well, finding a rotation.

``That's the hardest part about an all-star team slash Olympic team. Because you have so much talent, sometimes you don't know what group may play the best together. It's like a puzzle. Different pieces have to fit to form one great picture.''

Leslie, Swoopes, Teresa Edwards, Nikki McCray and Dawn Staley join Bolton-Holifield from the 1996 team. This will be the fifth Olympics for Edwards, who will play her 200th game for USA Basketball in Oakland.

The first-time Olympians are Milton, Natalie Williams, Yolanda Griffith, Chamique Holdsclaw, Katie Smith and Kara Wolters. All but Griffith were on the team that Fortner coached to the gold medal at the world championships in 1998.

The Canadian team has been playing together all summer and features U.S. college standouts Cal Bouchard of Boston College and Tammy Sutton-Brown of Rutgers. They helped Canada win the silver medal at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg last summer.

``They're really aggressive,'' Fortner said. ``They're smaller so they have to make up for it and they make up for it with their aggressive, physical style of play and it can really take you out of your game at times.

``You have to be very patient against them, just keep taking it to them and not lose your head over it.''