RIO DE JANEIRO — Geno Auriemma could only smile after his U.S. women’s basketball team dominated another opponent.
It wasn’t so much the final score of the game, but the coach was really excited about the record number of assists the Americans dished out.
Tina Charles and Brittney Griner each scored 18 points and the United States had 40 assists on its 46 baskets to beat China, 105-62, on Sunday. The Americans were unchallenged in group play, winning the five games by an average of 40.8 points, eclipsing the 100-point mark in four of them.
“When you have 40 assists, that means something,” Auriemma said beaming. “I talked to a team about that. There can’t be anything better in the game of basketball then when you get an assist. When you know that you made it possible for one of your teammates to get an easy basket, that’s basketball. Can’t play it any better than we played in the first half that was fun to watch.”
It was fun for those playing as well.
The United States is on a record-setting scoring pace averaging 104 points, just above the 102.4 mark set by the 1996 team that started the run of five gold medals and 46 consecutive Olympic wins.
Things get more serious as the single-elimination quarterfinals begin Tuesday with the U.S. (5-0) facing Japan. Whether the games get more challenging remains to be seen, but the heavily favored Americans need three more wins to capture their sixth consecutive gold medal.
“In some ways the mindset stays the same, we use our practice sessions and shootarounds to get better,” said point guard Sue Bird. “At the same time, it has to be a shift. You can’t make a mistake now. You have to be ready every single game. Everyone is going to be playing their best.”
About the only thing that went wrong for the Americans Sunday happened before the game even started. Elena Delle Donne was accidently poked in the eye by Tamika Catchings during warmups and didn’t play. Delle Donne spent most of the first quarter icing her right eye.
“I couldn’t see at the beginning,” said Delle Donne, who still had some redness on her cheekbone after the game. “Be good to go for the next one for sure.”
Even without the reigning WNBA MVP, the United States was too much for China.
The Americans jumped out to a 22-point lead after the first quarter as Charles, Maya Moore, Brittney Griner and Sylvia Fowles all got easy layups.
Griner also had 13 rebounds to go with her points. The quartet has spent time playing in the Chinese Basketball League in the winters.
The Americans set the tone for the game early. Charles had 12 points in the opening quarter.
“That first 15 minutes it was Tina against China. She was unbelievable,” Auriemma said of his former UConn star. “That was the Tina Charles I remember and the Tina Charles I’ve seen in New York a bunch of times. I don’t know how many which ways she scored in the first half.”
Players enjoyed putting Charles — and others — in scoring position.
In the opening period Moore stole the ball, raced down the court and then threw an over-the-head pass back to Charles, who converted it into an easy layup. It didn’t get any better for China. Despite the loud contingent of Brazilian fans who were backing the underdogs against the U.S., the Chinese team trailed by 34 at the half.
“We were really determined after playing so well in the first half just to continue that pace,” Moore said. “Starting the second half or maybe the fourth quarter I think our first six, seven baskets were assisted. ... It’s just a really fun atmosphere when we’re all moving the ball like that.”
Mengran Sun scored 16 to lead China (1-4), which failed to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2004. The Asian country fell to 0-8 against the United States in the Olympics.
“Largely, if you look at our teams the spread was about right,” China coach Tom Maher said. “They are an All-Star team. Who on any other team in this tournament could even make their team?”
In another game on Sunday, Serbia defeated Senegal, 95-88 Serbia clinched the fourth seed with China’s loss.