LOCALS IN LONDON
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LONDON — One bad game and they could be out.
With the stakes rising, the U.S. women are looking to raise their level of play in the Olympic basketball tournament.
Coach Geno Auriemma approached Sunday's game as if it was the American's first elimination game and the team responded, routing China 114-66 in record fashion.
"This was a must-win game because the winner of this game won the pool," Auriemma said. "It's the first time we've been put in this situation. Every game is single elimination and the stakes are higher as well. I know our level of play is going to go up. I'm confident that's going to happen."
Next up for U.S. is a quarterfinals meeting against Canada on Tuesday.
"Coach talked before the game about how we had to turn the switch," U.S. forward Tamika Catchings said. "Now these games are all about winning or going home."
It's not as if they have been playing poorly.
The U.S. won its first four games by an average of 35 points, but most of the contests were tight for a half. On Sunday, the Americans put up 61 points before the break and never looked back.
Diana Taurasi said it was good preparation for what's ahead.
"We definitely know that things will get tougher in the next few rounds," said Taurasi, who led the U.S. Sunday with 22 points. "Everyone that's left is a good team."
The women matched the 114 points they scored against Spain in 1992, but fell well short of the women's Olympic mark of 128 points set by Brazil in 2004.
The band of All-Stars also set American Olympic records with 33 assists that led to another team milestone of 52 baskets.
"This team takes tremendous pride in sharing the ball and we got good passers and finishers," he said. "It's a great testament to them and how much they are more interested in winning instead of who credits about scoring the most points."
Six players scored in double figures and 10 of the 12 had an assist.
"This team is so unselfish," said Catchings, who led the U.S. with seven assists. "It becomes contagious."
China was able to hang with the U.S. for a quarter behind its own hot shooting before the Americans turned the game into a blowout with a huge second-quarter run.
The victory was the Americans' 38th-straight in Olympic play and gave them the top seed in the group for the quarterfinals. The U.S. will meet its northern neighbor Canada on Tuesday.
The other quarterfinal matchups will be undefeated France against the Czech Republic; Australia plays China; and Russia will meet Turkey.
The Americans (5-0) haven't lost a game in the preliminary round since 1976 — the first time that women's basketball was played in the Olympics.
The U.S. also welcomed the return of center Sylvia Fowles in time for the quarterfinals.
The 6-foot-5 Fowles Sunday played for the first time after missing the last three games to rest a sore left foot. She started the second quarter and made an immediate impact with four points and one massive block in the second quarter.
"It felt great to be back out there playing," Fowles said. "This game was a lot of fun to play in."
The U.S. men scored a 156 points against Nigeria on Thursday, surpassing the century-mark midway through the third quarter in the blowout. There wasn't suspense in the second half of the women's game either, except for how many team records the Americans could break.
They took down their assist mark 3 minutes into the fourth quarter on Whalen's pass to Swin Cash that gave the U.S. 100 points.
The Americans tied the scoring record on Seimone Augustus' foul-line jumper with under a minute to play. And by the end of the game, they had also broken the American record for field goals made.
"In my opinion, the United States is the best team in the world," China coach Sun Fengwu said through a translator.
They'll have to play like it to win a fifth consecutive gold medal.