Aug. 19, 2004
By CHUCK SCHOFFNER
AP Sports Writer
ATHENS, GREECE (AP) - They swept down the floor in a formation so familiar they could've done it blindfolded.
Sue Bird in the middle with ball, Diana Taurasi to her left, Swin Cash on her right. Just like those heady days at Gampel Pavilion.
Two years after leading an unbeaten Connecticut to the NCAA championship, Bird, Taurasi and Cash are together again, playing for an Olympic title.
So far, there've been three decisive victories for the U.S. basketball team, which is favored to win its third straight gold medal.
"Two years later we all meet again, and there's no better time than the Olympics," Taurasi said. "It's funny, every time we're on the court together, you can just tell we've played together before. We've got a real good connection out there."
They've played together quite a bit in Athens because they're all on the second team and coach Van Chancellor has been using it as a unit. They were especially effective in the opener, when they shook the team out of its early lethargy in a 99-47 victory over New Zealand.
The United States then beat the Czech Republic and South Korea and plays Spain on Friday.
"It's a very comfortable situation," Bird said. "I know those two inside and out. I know their moves. I know what they like. I know where they like the ball. I spent four years learning that. Even though I haven't played with Swin or Diana for two or three years now, that never goes away."
Bird and Cash were seniors and Taurasi a sophomore when Connecticut capped a 39-0 season by beating Oklahoma in the 2002 national championship game. Bird and Cash then went to the WNBA and UConn won two more titles with Taurasi leading the way.
And while they went different ways after leaving UConn, they remained friends and now here they are, teammates once more, halfway around the world.
"We're pretty close," Cash said. "Sue and I are pretty much like sisters because we came in together and roomed together. Diana is the younger one of the bunch, but she fits right in. We see each other and we don't miss a beat."
They also see two of their biggest rivals from college every day because Tamika Catchings of Tennessee and Ruth Riley of Notre Dame are on the team, too.
How's that for the Olympic spirit of bringing everyone together?
When Riley led Notre Dame to the 2001 NCAA championship, the Irish beat a UConn team that made it to the semifinals with Bird, Taurasi and Cash. Catchings was on the Tennessee team that lost to Connecticut in the 2000 title game, when Bird and Cash were sophomores.
"It is interesting," Catchings said. "But I think once you leave college, it isn't important. Well, maybe that first year you're coming out. That was 2001 and Kelly Schumacher was playing for Indiana with me. She's from Connecticut and I'm like, oh, man, UConn.
"But after that first year, the school doesn't matter anymore."
Some things still do, though, like teamwork.
"The one thing that we always built was camaraderie off the court," Cash said. "I hear horror stories sometimes about teammates who didn't like each other through college and don't even speak after they graduate.
"I feel like everyone I went to school with, there's a love relationship there. I can call them up and talk to them about anything."
All three played for coach Geno Auriemma, whose five national championships are one behind Tennessee's Pat Summitt.
"He's like a proud father right now," Taurasi said.
Is he watching? The U.S. games have been starting at 7:30 a.m. EDT.
"Probably not," Bird said with a laugh. "He's lazy. He probably tapes it."