- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 22, 2010

OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC (AP) - Geno Auriemma is a master motivator.

He doesn’t need to say much to remind the U.S. women’s basketball team that it is not the defending world champions.

“They know what’s at stake here,” Auriemma said. “They know what happened in 2006.”

Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, and Diana Taurasi played on that third-place team. Even though they won a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the loss to Russia at worlds is still fresh in their minds.

“It definitely is a motivator for those of us that were on that team,” Catchings said. “I can still remember how I felt after the game sitting in the locker room. We sat there in our uniforms for probably a good 45 minutes to an hour even after the game like, ‘OK, what just happened?’”

The U.S. will open group play on Thursday against Greece, which is making its first appearance in the world championship.

The Americans, who haven’t gone consecutive worlds without winning a gold medal since 1971-75, haven’t had much time as a team to prepare for the tournament. Wednesday marked the first day that the entire group practiced together because of the WNBA playoffs.

Bird and Swin Cash led the Seattle Storm past Angel McCoughtry and the Atlanta Dream for the WNBA title last week. All three arrived in the Czech Republic on Tuesday.

“It definitely isn’t something I’m used to,” Auriemma said. “We’ve had our group together for one day and trying to get everything in place. I’m just excited to get this underway.”

Auriemma is already familiar with half his squad. Six players, including current senior Maya Moore, have been coached by him at Connecticut.

“The familiarity helps in that they know the system, but getting used to playing with each other on the court takes time,” the 56-year-old coach said.

Moore joined Candace Parker (2006) and Chamique Holdsclaw (1998) as the only collegians to play for the U.S. at this tournament in the past 12 years.

The U.S. success may hinge on center Sylvia Fowles’ left knee. She had surgery to repair a torn meniscus before the start of training camp in September. The 6-foot-6 star has only been able to take part in full practice for two days, but is getting more comfortable on the court.

“The knee is feeling great,” said Fowles after practice Wednesday. “It hasn’t been giving me any problems. I’m feeling 100 percent and excited to be back on the court.”

The U.S. is already missing Parker, who injured her left shoulder early in the WNBA summer season and is unable to play.

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