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All big teams through in opening day of Olympic women's basketball
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All favorites sailed through the opening round of the Beijing Olympic women's basketball preliminaries on Saturday.

Host China, to a roaring audience at the full-capacity Olympic basketball gym, beat a strong comeback to edge past the Spanish team in Group B opener.

By this victory, the Chinese girls revenged their loss to the same rivals four years ago when they conceded by eight points in the Athens Games where China finished in a remote ninth place.

"It is a big win to beat Spain and the match is important to us as it is a high physical group. Spain is a better team, they ranked higher than us and play with a lot of spirit," Chinese head coach Tom Maher said in the mixed zone.

"I know they will fight back, they used to beat us in the Athens Olympics but we handled the home pressure in a way we like. It is a tough big win."

World champion Australia mastered Belarus 83-64 and runners-up Russia beat Latvia 62-57 in Group A actions while in another Group B meeting, the United States trounced the Czech Republic 97-57.

The Australian girls, silver medallists four year ago and strong contenders for a gold medal, jumped out to a 16-6 lead only four minutes going to the game and built a 41-24 advantage with 2:40 minutes left in the second quarter.

Belarus, making their Olympic debut, once cut the gap to 38-48, but they never really threatened the Australian team, which was watched by their prime minister Kevin Rudd.

Lauren Jackson, one of the best center in the world, led four Australians to score double figures with 18 points, followed by Suzy Batkovic 14, with Penny Taylor and Laura Summerton each 12.

Australia shot 41 percent from the field (29-of-70) to Belarus' 32 percent (22-of-69) and outrebounded Belarus 48-44 and forced 19 turnovers while committing 14.

"It is quite normal to be nervous in the first Olympic match, that's why we don't play that good sometimes, but winning by 20 results is a good result," said Australian guard Jenni Screen. "I think we can sustain 40 minutes in the same level. We will have to keep doing it for the big matches."

Watched by the U.S. President George W. Bush and the all-star members of the men's basketball team, the American women's team was in a class of its own, shooting 52 percent from the field (37-of-71) to the Czechs' 36 percent (20-of-55).

After overcoming a tough-minded Spanish team, China will take on the United States in their second group match on Monday, but coach Maher doesn't seem to be worried about that much.

"There is big difference between us and the United States, they are among the best teams of the world, so we really feel relaxed ahead of the match. If we lose to the best team, it is definitely not the end of the world. Let's see what will happen," said the Australian, who was very happy with the grueling win over Spain.

China made a very solid start to the event where they used to finish second in Barcelona 1992, jumping to 9-0 with four minutes into the game.

Inspired by two consecutive three-pointers from Elisa Aguilar Lopez, Spain had once leveled the match at 15-15. However, China's centre Chen Nan, guard Miao Lijie and forward Sui Feifei came the points coming and extended the cushion to 37-24, the biggest one in the match, upon the first half whistle.

But Spain, who beat China in four of their six previous matches, mounted a strong comeback in the second half and hit six of their nine three-pointers to cut the gap to within five points.

Leading 65-62 with only 23 seconds remaining, China's Bian Lan hit a free throw and a turnover from the Spanish team cost the Spaniards their last hope.

Bian led the Chinese team with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Captain Miao and Chen added 12 apiece. Chen also had 10 rebounds.

"It is just a start. We played our game and highly motivated. We did not feel the Olympic pressure and facing a stronger team, our team has nothing to lose," said the 29-year-old Sui, who had 9 for China.

While Miao, who had played for WNBA's Sacramento Monarchs between 05-06 season, highlighted determination and preparation as key to victory.

"The most important thing is your determination. Also, you have to organise your mentality perfectly, and implement your co-operation perfectly. They (the opponents) are doing research on us, so the faster you react, the better it is."

Spanish forward Alba Torrens had 18 for her team and Montanana added 13.

Spain, who eyes a podium finish in the women's event, needs a win to boost confidence when they next face New Zealand, a team right on surge after a hard-fought 76-72 win over Olympic debutants Mali in Group B.

The only upset on the opening day came from Brazil, the fourth-placed team in both world championships 2006 and the Athens Games. They were pushed to the limits by the South Korean girls, who forced the very first overtime in the women's event.

Brazil took a narrow two-point lead into the fourth quarter and led by as much as seven points, but South Korea's steady outside shooting and defence enabled them to close the margin.

In a frantic final minute of the match, South Korean guard Choi Younah made her free throws from the line with 20 seconds remaining in regular time to tie the match at 55-55.

South Korea enjoyed a 9-0 run in overtime as Brazil had to blame it to their sloppy play.

"The Koreans' defence was very strong. They are not actually strong in the physical sense, but they played tough," said Brazil centre Francielle Nascimento.

(Xinhua News Agency August 10, 2008)

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