OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Despite winning seven NCAA titles at Connecticut, Geno Auriemma admitted he was nervous before coaching his first world championship game.
The U.S. team quickly eased those nerves with a 99-73 win over Greece on Thursday in the opening round of the women's basketball worlds.
"This is difficult because first you're not coaching at UConn where only the people in Connecticut care, now you're coaching a team where everybody in America cares if you win," said Auriemma, whose UConn teams have won a NCAA-record 78 games in two seasons. "I was probably more nervous today than before the national championship game back in April."
Angel McCoughtry and Swin Cash each scored 16 points to lead a balanced U.S. offense that featured five players in double figures.
"I thought it was a good game for us," Cash said. "We have so many people who can score that our depth always helps us. They made us work defensively, which will help us in the rest of the tournament."
The U.S. couldn't contain Evanthia Maltsi, who scored 29 points, including six 3-pointers for Greece. Styliani Kaltsidou added 21 points for the Greeks, who were making their first appearance at the event.
"They had two players tonight we couldn't stop," Auriemma said. "We played really well on the offensive side, but couldn't stop them."
The U.S. entered the tournament in an unfamiliar position of finishing third in 2006. The Americans haven't gone consecutive worlds without winning a gold medal since 1971-75.
McCoughtry, Cash and Sue Bird competed in the WNBA finals and only arrived on Tuesday. That allowed just one day of practice with the entire team.
"It's a lot easier to come here and play with so many talented players," McCoughtry said. "Coach said he could pick the starting five out of a hat and it wouldn't make a difference who is out there."
Connecticut senior Maya Moore became the third collegian to play for the U.S. when she entered midway through the first quarter. She joined Candace Parker (2006) and Chamique Holdsclaw (1998), who competed while in college.
"Maya looked like a college player tonight," Auriemma said. "She got lost a couple times on the floor. She's a smart player, she'll get better tomorrow night."
The U.S. will play Senegal on Friday, while Greece faces France.
Moore made her presence felt immediately on the offensive end, scoring five points during a 17-6 spurt that turned a three-point U.S. lead into a 32-18 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
Bird started the run with a 3-pointer and Cash followed with a three-point play that made it 21-12.
Greece cut the deficit to 15 three times in the second quarter, including to 50-35 on Maltsi's backdoor layup with 4.5 seconds left. Moore responded, beating the halftime buzzer with a jumper just inside the 3-point line that made it a 17-point game. She finished with nine points.
The Greeks got within 12 on Maltsi's 3-pointer with 6:40 left in the third quarter before back-to-back layups by Charles and Dupree ended any hopes of a comeback.
Greece would get no closer than 14 the rest of the way.
"We knew coming in that the Americans were a very talented team," Maltsi said. "Just to compete with them in our first world game will help us get better as a team. I'm so proud that we're here."
Dupree scored eight of her 10 points in the fourth quarter as the U.S. watched its lead grow to as many as 28 points.
"They are so big and have so many athletes, we couldn't compete with them for rebounds," Greece coach Kostas Missas said.
Center Sylvia Fowles looked comfortable while playing seven minutes. She is still working her way back after surgery last month on her left knee repaired a torn meniscus. The 6-foot-6 star has only taken part in full practices for two days.
"This was Sylvia's first game since she had the surgery and I thought she looked very good," Auriemma said. "Sylvia changes the game as she's so big, so strong. I hope to player her a bit more tomorrow."