U.S. women's basketball after more than gold

When you've become as dominant as the United States women's basketball program has been, it's no longer good enough to simply win gold.

When head coach Geno Auriemma and his players addressed the media Thursday in London, they spoke about doing something special at the 2012 Summer Games. Of course, winning a fifth straight gold is obviously the main goal, but this team is also after something that's a little harder to define than the color of a medal.

"They have the potential to be one of the best Olympic teams ever," said Auriemma.

And Auriemma knows a thing or two about this team, having coached six of the 12 players on this roster at the University of Connecticut, where the Hall of Famer has picked up seven national championships.

Two of Auriemma's UConn proteges on this team -- Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi -- are already two-time Olympic gold medalists. Tamika Catchings, who has also been to the top of the podium twice, is another player who understands what it takes to win it all at the Summer Games.

"These three, especially, feed off each other's success," Auriemma said of his experienced trio.

Meanwhile, four other U.S. players have won one gold, while five more are making their Olympic debuts.

Perhaps it's that particular mix of Olympic experience and youthful energy that gives Auriemma hope that such a heavily-favored team can still manage to surprise people.

It won't be easy to top the level of domination the U.S. displayed at the 2010 FIBA World Championships, where the American women went 9-0 and had an average margin of victory of 35 points. Their toughest test at that tournament came before the knock-out round even started when they beat Australia 83-75.

The Aussies, who have won silver at the last three Olympics, figure to be the main competition in London, but when you're talking about American women's basketball, that's a relative concept. As a program, the U.S. has won 33 straight Olympic contests dating back to the 1992 bronze medal game and it's hard to fathom that streak coming to end in 2012.

Since the U.S. is on a plain all to itself when it comes to women's basketball, it's fitting that Auriemma has found inspiration for what he wants his team to achieve in another sport altogether. Auriemma labeled himself, Bird and Taurasi as "huge soccer fans" and he'd like to take a page from the Spanish men's team, which recently bookended a 2010 World Cup championship with a second straight European Championship earlier this month.

"We would love to play basketball the way Spain plays soccer. Always moving the ball. We don't want to be like Italy and win 1-0," said Auriemma.

And it's not just about adding another piece of hardware to the United States' already massive haul of Olympic medals. Auriemma's team is trying to not only win one for their nation but also attempting to drastically improve the reputation of women's basketball all over the world.

"If it's going to be ugly I think we're going to harm the game more than help it," said Auriemma. "So just winning is not going to be good enough."

It may sound arrogant to talk that way, but when it's been 20 years since your last Olympic loss the time for false modesty has long since passed.

So, on Saturday, when the U.S. women begin group play against Croatia, just remember that this is a team competing for more than gold. They're playing for women basketball players everywhere who are tired of being told their brand of ball is not as fun to watch as the men's.

It's a lofty goal indeed, but Auriemma believes if anybody can change the perception of the sport it's this team. Here's hoping that he's right because it sounds like something that's worth even more than gold.