LONDON - Next up for Swin Cash and the U.S. Olympic women's team in their quest for another gold medal is a matchup with Angola.
The Americans are looking for their fifth in a row, Cash has one from 2004 — she once dreamed of winning three.
That was before back surgery forced her to miss the 2008 Beijing Games.
But Cash didn't want her Olympic dreams or her career to end on a sour note.
"I was at a point in 2008 where I didn't want to leave this game with people defining who I was as a player," Cash said. "Going out with an injury is not what I wanted my legacy to be."
A conversation with five-time Olympian and basketball great Teresa Edwards helped her refocus with one goal in mind — making it to London. Cash dedicated herself to getting healthy and now that the 32-year-old is back in the Olympics, she is ready to play whoever is next on the U.S. schedule.
"The last four years have been a humble journey for me. I'm just taking it all in," said Cash, who played in China during the WNBA off-season and worked out whenever she could with her former strength and conditioning coach at Connecticut. "I came in with Dee (Diana Taurasi), Sue (Bird) and Catch (Tamika Catchings) and we all thought we'd win three medals.
"I took one off and now come back and it's a different feeling."
Cash, who is only one of six players to have won titles in college, the WNBA, the FIBA world championship and the Olympics, knows her role has changed. She also knows she can contribute and stays ready for whenever and however coach Geno Auriemma needs her.
Cash made an immediate impact in the team's Olympic opener on Saturday, keying a U.S. run that helped the Americans pull away from Croatia. She didn't get in the game until late in the third quarter. But she was ready when her former college coach subbed her in, converting a three-point play early in the fourth quarter that gave the U.S. some breathing room.
"She understands her role will be a little bit different on this team than the team she plays on," Auriemma said. "Regardless of what team she's on, she's going to give you the same thing. When she comes into the game the tempo of the game is going to change, she knows that."
Bird, Cash's longtime teammate, has watched Cash battle her way back to the world stage. Bird played with her in college at Connecticut and in the WNBA with the Seattle Storm, winning titles in both places.
"It's impressive, Swin's been through a lot of injuries, obviously it started with her ACL and progressed into that back injury," Bird said. "Swin is someone who always wants to prove herself no matter what. When she had those injuries she didn't have a chance to and people were saying things. Maybe her career is on the down side of things.
"She was determined to get back on the court and be herself again."
Now Cash has an opportunity to win a second Olympic gold medal.
The next obstacle for her and the U.S. is Angola. The African nation, playing in its first Olympic women's basketball tournament, lost to Turkey 72-50 on Saturday.
Even though Angola shouldn't pose much of challenge for the U.S., the Americans had an intense practice Sunday — working to correct some of the weaknesses that the Croatians exposed Saturday. The Americans struggled on offence for three quarters against Croatia before winning by 25 — the biggest margin of victory in any of the games on Saturday. Still, they know there is a lot to improve on.
"We're trying to improve every game," Auriemma said. "There are a lot of things we did in the Croatia game we didn't like. We did some things we did like. We'll see if we're better at those things."
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