The U.S. women will turn to the veteran leadership of the three-time Olympians when they meet Canada in the first game of the win-or-go-home quarterfinals on Tuesday.
The trio have been part of the team's dominant run over the last 16 years, helping the Americans win the last two gold medals. Now they'll try to get them back to the semifinals for the seventh straight Olympics.
"With our experience we understand what's ahead of us, what's at stake, what you have to do, how you have to play, we can lead by example that way," Bird said.
Gold is the only colour the Americans have known at the last four Olympic games. Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain got the run started in 1996 before passing the leadership to Dawn Staley and Lisa Leslie.
Now Taurasi, Catchings and Bird are the leaders — each having their own style.
"Sue's subtle and effective, Diana's very sledge hammer and very effective and Tamika just plays, doesn't say much, doesn't draw a lot of attention. She just plays," U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. "I said to Dee this morning, we looked really good when you knock down five shots in the first quarter. Everyone else let's out a sigh of relief. Having those vets step up, that's huge.
"If we get Tamika, Dee and Sue all playing great everyone else just fills in."
The Americans cruised through pool play winning by an average of 37 points. But now the stakes are raised with the U.S. facing elimination with a loss.
"It's one and done," Bird said. "You can't overlook that, you can't have a bad night. I think really, the way I took that you have to make sure you're ready to play. In the pool play, if we lost we'd still advance. Now you have to come and play in every single game."
While Taurasi deferred to her teammates early on in pool play, she's been more aggressive on offence lately. She had 22 in the Americans 114-66 win over China on Sunday that clinched the top spot in the group.
"We're at the point in the tournament now where she has to be Diana and not worry about everybody else," Auriemma said. "Just worry about yourself and everything will be OK."
Unlike their opponents, Canada is in uncharted territory. America's northern neighbours are playing in their first quarter-finals.
"Canada has been in every single game and they finished fourth," Auriemma said. "They've had a chance in every game. It's the kind of tournament where you've got to play well every night. For us we're a little fortunate that we're a little deeper."
Canada has several players on its roster who played college basketball in the U.S., including Courtnay Pilypaitis (Vermont), Lizanne Murphy (Hofstra) and Kim Smith and Shona Thorburn from Utah. The Canadians also have two current college players: Utah's Michelle Plouffe and Notre Dame's Natalie Achonwa.
Canada was the last team to earn a spot in the London Games, finishing fifth at the final FIBA qualifier. The Canadians know they'll need to play really well to have a chance for what would be a monumental upset.
"It's probably a foregone conclusion, but we're going to go play," Canada coach Alison McNeill said. "We're going to play hard and do the best we can do to win. They're unbelievable good. We've played with Russia and Australia, so can we play with them? We're about to find out."Suggest a correction