By DOUG FEINBERG LONDON (AP) -- Tina Charles and Candace Parker each had double-doubles and Angel McCoughtry provided a spark off the bench to help the U.S. women's team overcome a sloppy performance Saturday to beat Croatia 81-56 in their Olympic opener. Coach Geno Auriemma had said he was hoping that the Americans could play a style of basketball that would be entertaining and help grow the women's game internationally. That didn't happen Saturday. The U.S. struggled for the first three quarters before pulling away to win their 34th consecutive Olympic contest. The victory was far different than the 54-point pounding the Americans gave Croatia a week earlier. Despite missing its first 14 shots, Croatia hung tough for the first 30 minutes before the Americans finally could pull away. The U.S., which has dominated its opponents en route to the last four gold medals, only led 53-49 early in the fourth quarter before a 16-0 run put the game out of reach. McCoughtry started the burst with consecutive layups and Tamika Catchings capped it with a three-point play that made it 69-49. Swin Cash, who hadn't played in the first few quarters also had a three-point play in the spurt. McCoughtry finished with 13 points. Charles had 14 points and 10 rebounds; Parker finished with 11 points and 13 boards. Jelena Ivezic scored 22 points and Marija Vrsaljko added 19 for Croatia, which was making its Olympic debut. Vrsaljko missed the previous contest last Saturday as she was getting married. While the Americans had their way on offense in that contest, they struggled Saturday. The U.S. built a 9-0 lead early on as Croatia missed its first 14 shots. The Americans could have been up a lot more, but missed a lot of easy shots and turned the ball over. The U.S. finished with 21 turnovers. Vrsaljko finally got the Croatians on the board with a lay-in with 2 minutes left in the first quarter. The U.S. built its lead to 21-9 and looked poised to take command early before going cold from the floor. Croatia scored the next 14 points, capped by Luca Ivankovic's lay-in that gave the team it's first lead of the game, 23-21. Ivezic's 3 minutes later made it 26-23. Diana Taurasi had seen enough, hitting consecutive 3s to restore the Americans' advantage. The U.S. led 31-28 at the half. It was the second straight Olympics that the Americans struggled in their opener. They trailed the Czech Republic 13-2 before winning by 40 at the Beijing Games. The U.S. men's basketball team, who are also heavy favorites to win the gold, didn't make the women's opener. They had practice at the same time. The two teams marched together in the opening ceremonies and are staying in the same hotel Next up for the U.S. is Angola, which lost to Turkey 72-50 in its first Olympic debut. The Americans will also face China, Turkey and the Czech Republic in pool play. The U.S. beat the Czechs in the finals of the 2010 world championship to qualify for the London Games. The Czech Republic lost its pool opener, falling to China 66-57. In other early games Saturday, Russia rallied past Canada 58-53. Brazil played France and Australia met Britain later Saturday night.
Here are five plays or moments from the Washington Wizards' 92-85 win over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night at the Verizon Center that are worth revisiting...
1. Bradley Beal threw down a huge two-handed slam in the first quarter that was set up by John Wall. Wall drove to his left and found Beal in the corner for a would-be three-point attempt, but Beal had other ideas and drove baseline to set up the dunk:
2. Wall is established as one of the best athletes in the NBA, especially at the point guard position. That was demonstrated well by this putback shot in the first quarter:
3. Kelly Oubre, Jr. had another strong night off the bench. He brought energy on both sides of the floor, as evidenced by this steal and fastbreak layup in the fourth quarter:
4. The Wizards sealed the victory with hustle plays, including this block of Will Barton by Marcin Gortat. Barton tried to take it to the rim after a steal, but Gortat sent him packing:
5. Then there was this dive by Beal to corral a loose ball, a play that helped put the game on ice:
Wins in the NBA can come in many different forms and what transpired at the Verizon Center on Thursday night was by no means pretty. The scoreboard didn't even work for the first few minutes and when it came back to life the Wizards trailed the Nuggets 17-5.
By the end of the first the Wizards were shooting 36.4 percent and had eight turnovers. In the fourth quarter, they managed just 17 points and only scored four in the final 3:47 of play.
Offense was not the reason why they won this one, a 92-85 final score. No, this one was paved by defense - they held the Nuggets to 33 points in the second half and 12 in the fourth - and hustle plays in key moments that helped the Wizards seal their seventh win of the season.
The Wizards forced 29 Nuggets turnovers and held them to 11-of-35 shooting - including 1-for-18 from three - in the second half. Denver may have started out hot, but it didn't last long.
"I think we just played harder in the second half, that's the reason we came out with a win," said John Wall, who lamented his teammates effort after Tuesday night's loss to the Magic.
“It was not the prettiest game but we fought, we battled, we battled, we stayed in front of our men; we did a good job of guarding. We made them miss a lot of shots," head coach Scott Brooks said.
That extra effort included a big block by Marcin Gortat with 4:24 remaining in the fourth quarter. With Will Barton going up on the left side of the hoop after a steal, Gortat adjusted while backpedaling to reject him at the rim.
It kept the Wizards up 85-83 at the time and Brooks raved about it afterwards.
"I thought Marcin [Gortat] struggled most of the night but he had a huge block. That's what you have to do. You can't worry about you last play. You have to worry about helping the next player and help your teammates out," Brooks said.
With 46 seconds remaining, Bradley Beal pulled off a play that went a long way towards clinching the win. On a Jameer Nelson missed three-pointer, Beal dove to a full-stretch to bring in the rebound. He fell to the ground and called timeout right in front of the Wizards' bench as his teammates leapt out of their seats to rejoice.
It was a loose ball that Beal made sure he was determined to get.
“It’s whatever it takes to get a win, even if it’s diving on the floor," Beal said. "They were telling me to try out for the Redskins because I laid out and caught it, got possession, two feet in, tucked and rolled. But we need plays like that to win games, and whatever it takes at this point.”
"Those are winning plays. That's what we needed all game and that's what we need every game, winning plays late like that. That just showed that guys really care about winning," forward Markieff Morris said. "When you've got one of your best players giving everything he's got to win, it has to send a jolt [to teammates]. If it doesn't, then something is wrong."
The Wizards have talked plenty this season about controlling what they can control. When they don't have it on offense, make sure the effort is there on the defensive end and more often than not they will be in games with a chance to win. On Thursday, the proof was on display.