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Aug. 15, 2008

U.S. coach Anne Donovan didn’t mind that her women’s basketball team struggled in the first half against Spain. She felt even better by the way the Americans responded.

The first three contests for the U.S. were over by halftime as the Americans won by an average of 47 points. Friday night at halftime the U.S. led by just five, 39-34.

“For us this was a good game,” Donovan said. “It’s what we wanted to have. Tonight it was great when Spain made their run and at the end of the first half, we’re sitting there with a five-point lead. … We hadn’t been tested like that.”

The U.S. aced the exam. The US opened the third quarter with a 20-5 run en route to a 93-55 victory. Tina Thompson scored nine of her 17 points during the decisive run and Lisa Leslie added 14 points and 11 rebounds.

“It was good that we got tested and things didn’t go our way,” U.S. guard Kara Lawson said. “We got into the locker room and there was no sense of panic. At some point we were going to go through a stretch like that and its better we faced it now so that we’re prepared for later.”

The Americans had 11 turnovers by the half–more than they had in any entire game of the tournament. More focused, the USA scored the first nine points of the third period, including three by Thompson from the foul line. Thompson was fouled hard by Ana Montanana, who was called for a technical foul– the first of the entire Olympics.

“I don’t even remember what happened,” Thompson said. “Stuff like that happens during a game when both teams are playing physical. You just step up hit your free throws and move on.”

Tamika Catchings’ putback with 2:53 left in the period gave the U.S. a 59-39 advantage. Spain closed within 16 to start the fourth quarter before the Americans went on a 13-0 run to put the game away.

Candace Parker added 13 points and Diana Taurasi had 12 for the U.S. (4-0). The Americans will close out pool play on Sunday against New Zealand (1-3).

“Realistically we know that we can’t compete with America,” New Zealand coach Mike McHugh said. “We’ll just try to accomplish small goals.”

Amaya Valdemoro led Spain (2-2) with 17 points.

The U.S. got a brief scare when Leslie left early in the period with a slight hip injury. She was stretched on the sidelines by team trainer Ed Ryan before returning later in the period.

“My hip kind of jammed on me,” Leslie said. “I had to get a little treatment on the side, but once it got warm I was okay.”

With the win, the U.S. has 29 straight victories in Olympic contests. The last loss was to the Unified team in the 1992 semifinals.

The game looked to be another blowout at the start with the Americans jumping out to a 19-4 lead in the first quarter as they held Spain scoreless for nearly 7:30 minutes. However, Spain wouldn’t go away, closing the period with a 13-3 spurt of its own, hitting four 3-pointers. Montanana’s 3-pointer at the buzzer closed the gap to 22-17.

“We got off to that great start, but then they made a run hitting all those 3s to make a game of it and give themselves confidence,” U.S. co-captain Katie Smith said.

Spain will finish its pool play on Sunday against Mali.

In other games Friday, Australia topped Latvia 96-73, Russia edged Brazil 74-64, the Czech Republic beat New Zealand 90-59, Belarus defeated South Korea 63-53, and China routed Mali 69-48.