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.
When the Capitals were contemplating whether to trade for Kevin Shattenkirk, General Manager Brian MacLellan sought out Brooks Orpik’s opinion.
Orpik and Shattenkirk played together in the Olympics in 2014.
“I vouched for him hard,” Orpik said. “It’s a tough transition for a lot of people when they get traded at the deadline. That was something Mac and the coaches were a little worried about, but he’s got the kind of personality and demeanor where I think he could go to any of the 30 teams and fit in right away.”
Although Shattenkirk was paired with Nate Schmidt in his Capitals’ debut Tuesday against the Rangers, the team’s long term plan is for the former Blues’ star to skate alongside Orpik, who is working his way back from a nagging lower body injury.
Shattenkirk and Orpik were a tandem in Wednesday’s practice.
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“I watched the game [Tuesday] night and I think we played a little bit together in the last Olympics,” Orpik said. “I also know him pretty well off the ice from [Sochi] and I see him quite a bit in Boston in the summer.”
The off-the-ice familiarity helps. But what Coach Barry Trotz really likes about the Shattenkirk-Orpik pairing is its balance.
“They can complement each other because one is a physical defender and the other is a poised puck moving defender…who has more of an offensive flair,” Trotz said.
With Karl Alzner-John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen forming the other two tandems, each of the three pairs has a lefty and a righty.
“The three pairs we have, they really have good balance,” Trotz said. “They got a little bite to them, a little bit of weight to them, a little bit of offense, some defense. I like our three pairs.”
The pair that’s going to be under the spotlight in the coming days and weeks, though, will be the newest one: Orpik-Shattenkirk.
One practice in, Shattenkirk said he felt some chemistry with Orpik.
“I’ve fortunately been able to see him play firsthand in the Olympics,” Shattenkirk said. “So I know the type of style he brings. He’s a steady, steady guy back there and I know he’s always going to be there to be in a support role for me. Until we get into games and play together it’s going to be a little bit of a process but I’m looking forward to it.”
Orpik echoed Shattenkirk’s sentiments.
“Anytime you get a new partner it’s a little bit of an adjustment,” Orpik said. “You just try to get better every game. You’d wish for it to happen a lot quicker than it does but you just try to stay patient.”
With 20 games remaining in the regular season, the two will have ample time to get on the same page prior to the playoffs, which figures to be a defining moment of the Alex Ovechkin Era.
“This is probably our best chance to win in here,” Orpik said, asked what message management sent to the dressing room by acquiring Shattenkirk. “Everybody is aware of what our situation is going into free agency this summer. I don’t think it’s an indictment on anyone who got bumped out of the lineup. I think it’s just trying to maximize what we already have here. [Shattenkirk] is obviously a pretty good piece to add to what we already have.”
The Redskins face the very real prospect of losing receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon via free agency. Head coach Jay Gruden wants both players back, but is prepared to roll with the guys on the team if Jackson and Garçon depart.
"Obviously DeSean and Pierre had great years. 1,000 yards each. Those are going to be hard to replace," Gruden said to reporters in Indianapolis.
It's still possible the Redskins keep both Jackson and Garçon, or keep one of the two, just as both players could leave the organization. In his comments, it seemed like Gruden does not expect one or both guys to be back, and that the team will move on without them. That could mean losing Jackson's 1,005 receiving yards or Garçon's 1,041.
"Coach the guys that we have. Free agency you’re never going to be able to sign everybody you want as a coach," he said. "I’d like to have Alshon Jeffery, Pierre and DeSean. Heck, give them all to me. I know that's not going to happen."
Gruden tends to joke often speaking with the media, and clearly the prospect of signing Jeffery, a star wideout for the Bears that will hit free agency next week, along with Jackson and Garçon isn't going to happen. The receiver market in free agency will be interesting to watch, as a number of top options will be available. Jeffery, Jackson, Garçon along with Cleveland's Terrelle Pryor and younger prospects like Kenny Stills and Kenny Britt.
Asked if it was "necessary" to bring at least one of Garçon or Jackson back, Gruden bristled.
"Would never say necessary. I’d love to have them both back, I'd love to have one back. If we are unfortunate enough to lose them both, I'm not gonna blink."
The coach explained the team has a good crop of young pass catchers already on the roster.
"I do feel very good about Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant, Josh Doctson. I love the fact that Mo Harris got a lot of work in, he’s gonna develop."
The coach should feel good about the young receivers, their development is part of his job. Crowder looks like a future star in the slot. Still, Jackson and Garçon accounted for more than 40 percent of Kirk Cousins' passing yards in 2016. That's a lot of yardage to lose.
Of course, Doctson's development will be a major theme this offseason. A first-round pick in 2016, the Redskins got next to nothing from him as a rookie as he dealt with an Achilles injury. A healthy 6-foot-2 Doctson could offset some of the lost productivity that would come with the departure of Jackson or Garçon.
And then there is always free agency. It's entirely possible Washington could sign another, perhaps cheaper, wideout on the marketplace should they lose two the same way. Gruden said the team has 'other free agents' the team could pursue.
"We have Plan B's and Plan C's ready to go," Gruden said.
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