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Underdog mentality galvanizes Taurasi, Team USA

The U.S. Women’s National Team is off to an unprecedented start in Rio de Janeiro, breaking two records and tying one individual record, as well as adding unbelievable statistics to an already impressive docket. Geno Auriemma’s superstar squadron notched their first win, and will continue tomorrow in their quest for a sixth-straight gold medal.

Basketball - Olympics: Day 2 Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

By the end of the first quarter, four-time Olympian Diana Taurasi, had outscored the entire Senegal team, 12-9. Heading into the second, Taurasi’s four threes put her on pace to tie her own U.S. Olympic record of five triples in a game.

One record.

"Our biggest point going into the game was getting off to a good start," Taurasi said. "We know how important momentum is in these tournaments, where if you get off to a good start, that kind of carries into the first game and into the next game, which is tomorrow. That was crucial, and I thought we did a good job of that."

The effort put forth by Taurasi, and her teammates led to an unbelievable performance by the U.S. Women’s National Team, who beat Senegal 121-56. The U.S. broke their previous record for most points scored in the Olympics (114) by seven, a record set in 1992 and tied four years ago in London.

Two records.

And to top it all off, the women’s team broke another record with the largest margin of victory in U.S. Olympics’ history at +65 (previously at +60).

Three records… and counting.

"We just played so quickly, and the ball moved so quickly for us," said head coach Geno Auriemma. "And when Diana starts the game off like that, that just makes us really, really tough to play against."

The win on Sunday brings the winning streak to 42 games for the women’s team (since 1992), and puts them on track to earn their sixth straight Olympic gold medal and eighth overall since the inception of women’s basketball in the Olympics in 1976.

"Believe it or not, we always take the underdog mentality," Taurasi said. "When we leave that locker room, we feel like the underdogs. We really do. We feel like everyone’s against us, and those 12 players, five coaches and our fans, that’s what we go into the game with and try to protect that."

Taurasi and veterans Tamika Catchings and Sue Bird — who had seven assists going into the half — join the 2016 powerhouse team for the trio’s fourth consecutive Olympic appearance- something unprecedented in itself.

At the age of 34, Taurasi has shown no signs of slowing down, and has proven the catalyst of the women’s first game in Rio de Janeiro. She finished Sunday’s game with 15 points, all three-pointers, and provided some of the best footwork in the women’s game en route.

Unfortunately, Taurasi did not return to the court to break her own record, but handed the reigns over to the group of first-time Olympians in reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart.

"We’re going need them down the stretch, because all three are so versatile," Taurasi said. "Obviously, BG inside and E and Stewie on the perimeter, they’re just nightmares with their height and their shooting ability. Their moment will come in this tournament, and today was good for them to get their confidence and to get themselves going."

Griner, made her way into the starting lineup, and finished with 14 points and two blocks, becoming a dominant factor in the team’s rebounding with seven. Delle Donne added 11 points, six assists and two steals, while Stewart finished with 15 points, tying with Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles for the team-high.

In addition, it was Stewart who hit the team’s last shot in with a three-pointer to bring the final score to 121-65, taking over for Taurasi and providing a look into the future of U.S women’s basketball.

"We looked around, and we said that the three of them played as if they were Olympic veterans," Auriemma said. "It didn’t look at all like there was any sign of nervousness, or tentativeness or deferring to the other players. So, I was thoroughly impressed and really, really happy with the way it played out for them. It was maybe the perfect way for this to start."

But perhaps the best part about the entire U.S. women’s team is the selfless, team mentality. Comprised of 12 elite players and the best women’s players in the world, each and everyone can perform on head coach Geno Auriemma’s court.

"There is something to be said about a team that can come together in two weeks and play the way we’re playing right now," said Bird. "More than anything, regardless of the score, it’s beautiful basketball.

"We share the ball, we move the ball, we make the right plays at the right time, and that to me is a great brand of basketball. And if we can elevate the play, if people strive to play that way, and we can elevate the play of the entire world, then what’s better than that for basketball? Nothing."

And today, each and everyone scored. The team tallied up 36 assists on their way to the rout.

The key for the U.S. offense’s immediate domination was hitting outside shots to open the floor first thing. Aggressive shots and quick, clever passes provided the swift movement needed to lead Senegal 35-9 after the first quarter.

Though Senegal made great plays in small chunks, the U.S.’s defense proved virtually seamless in almost every lineup on the court. In fact, Senegal had more turnovers than they did field goals (27-19)—a credit to the hard work of the women and Auriemma in such little time to prepare.

Taurasi is the star of the team’s first game and one of the best to ever grace the court in the history of women’s basketball, but with such dynamic skill and talent, there’s no way to predict who will emerge in the next.

"Records, at the end of the day, are fun to look back on and to think of all the great plays we made," Bird said. "But, we’re here for one reason, and that’s to win a gold medal. We just want out to come out and play our game. Lucky for us, we have a lot of scorers. Every single player on the floor, no matter who’s in the game can put up a lot of big numbers."

Overall, the women shot 65 percent on field goals and 56 percent in three-pointers and racked up 40 rebounds, nine turnovers, 13 steals and four blocks.

The U.S. plays again on Monday at 11 a.m. ET against Spain.​