By DAVID BAUDER
It’s a good thing for the U.S. women’s basketball players that they weren’t near a television set at halftime of their semifinal game against Australia on Thursday.
That’s because NBC analyst Lisa Leslie, who speaks with four gold medals worth of credibility, directly questioned the team’s heart in her assessment of a first half where Australia led 47-43.
Australia, she said, “is just playing hungry. They want it more right now.” Later, the NBC Sports Network showed a clip of Australian Liz Cambage making a layup through defense Leslie said was so porous that her grandmother could have scored on the play.
If American soccer player Hope Solo took to Twitter to mutter about NBC’s Brandi Chastain’s harsh assessment of the team’s defense, what might she have thought about a statement as strong as Leslie’s?
Game analyst Ann Meyers took an easy way out, saying sometimes players appreciate a close game.
“Sometimes as a player when you’re in this type of game your adrenaline gets flowing and you’ve got to come to play,” she said.
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Judging by U.S. coach Geno Auriemma’s expression, he would have greatly preferred a blowout. Considering Cambage scored 19 points in the first half and none in the second, it’s a good bet his halftime language was pretty harsh, too. The U.S. team won 86-73 to advance to the championship game, primarily on the strength of its second-half defense.
RATINGS: Nielsen said that 29.1 million people watched NBC’s Wednesday night coverage, highlighted by the beach volleyball gold medal match with Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. For the 12th time in 13 nights, NBC had a bigger audience than the corresponding night in Beijing, which had 24.8 million viewers. NBC also had 16.1 million people hang around after the Olympics to watch the preview of Matthew Perry’s new comedy, “Go On.”
BOLT FROM BLUE: NBC was quick to confirm Usain Bolt’s legendary status after the Jamaican’s 200-meter victory. Ato Boldon proclaimed him the best sprinter in human history. Tom Hammond said he combined charisma and ability better than anyone since Muhammad Ali. Bob Costas wondered what Jesse Owens could have done with more opportunity, but he also declared Bolt the best. Track reporter Lewis Johnson cut through the superlatives for some important work, getting Bolt to declare before the sweat even dried from his race that he’d like to try winning both sprints for a third time four years from now in Rio.
WOMEN’S SOCCER: When the U.S. women’s gold medal soccer game against Japan began on the NBC Sports Network, NBC’s broadcast network was airing a water polo match between Australia and Hungary. Given interest in the soccer game, couldn’t a switch have been made to the network with more distribution?
EXCITABLE GIRL: The sheer exuberance of 17-year-old Claressa Shields of Flint, Mich., as she won the U.S.’s only boxing gold medal was contagious if you knew to look for it on CNBC. It’s a measure of how far boxing has fallen in the Olympics that this achievement — the first woman to win a boxing gold medal for the U.S. — got only a brief mention from Costas as he was delivering the medal count on NBC. Not even a picture. Shields deserved more attention.
QUOTE: “You want to put bugs on an opponent’s windshield a little bit.” —boxing analyst Teddy Atlas, encouraging Shields to pepper her opponent with jabs. We think.
McKAYLA IS NOT IMPRESSED: American gymnast McKayla Maroney is the inadvertent star of a Tumblr site that uses a picture of her with arms folded and a look of disgust after winning a silver medal in the vault competition. Called “McKayla is Not Impressed,” the site superimposes the photo in all sorts of scenes — in front of the Sphinx, at the Great Wall of China, at the Royal Wedding.
THE EATONS: Why couldn’t we help wonder what reality show decathlon gold medalist Ashton Eaton will be starring in some 35 years from now?
DISAPPEARING MATCH: Granted, taekwondo matches usually aren’t headline events. But viewers who watched Thursday’s contest between American Diana Lopez and China’s Hou Yuzhuo deserved better. The two cautious fighters were scoreless headed into sudden-death play, when a sudden kick by Hou ended it. If you blinked, you missed it, and Lopez wasn’t happy with the call. Instead of showing a replay and offering some analysis, the NBC Sports Network quickly put on a commercial and moved on to something else.
BROKAW DOCUMENTARY: NBC has scheduled “Their Finest Hour,” a Tom Brokaw documentary on Britain’s resistance to the Nazis in World War II, for 8 p.m. ET on Saturday, the beginning of the network’s prime-time Olympics coverage.
UPCOMING: BMX cycling gold medal finals on Friday.
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