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Sunday, August 5, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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No Substitute For American Depth -- Bench Helps U.S. Reach Final Against Soviet Union

CUTLINE: JIMI LOTT / SEATTLE TIMES: ABOVE: BULGARIA'S POLINA TZEKOVA (LEFT), WHO GOT INTO EARLY FOUL TROUBLE, GETS HER ARMS TANGLED WITH AMERICAN TAMMY JACKSON. LEFT: KATRINA MCCLAIN OF THE U.S. GRABS A REBOUND IN FRONT OF POLINA TZEKOVA.

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If there is one area where the United States women's basketball team has an advantage over the rest of world, it is depth of talent.

Theresa Grentz, coach of the unbeaten U.S. team, not only made liberal use of her reserves in the world championships in Malaysia but has continued that policy throughout the Goodwill Games. Results have been positive.

It happened again yesterday in Center Arena as the Americans overcame some sluggishness in disposing of Bulgaria 106-67 in a medal-round semifinal.

The outcome propelled the United States into today's 1 p.m. gold-medal game against the Soviet Union, which beat Brazil 94-87 in last night's other semifinal.

Including steady Lynette Woodard, at 30 the oldest player in uniform for either team, and Carolyn Jones, at 21 one of the youngest, the U.S. reserves outscored their Bulgarian counterparts 59-13.

Woodard, a veteran of international competition, and Jones, who has two seasons left at Auburn University, each scored 12 points.

Woodard also contributed a dose of savvy.

``I thought Lynette gave us a great spark, with her maturity and experience showing the direction that the U.S. team needs to take in this kind of competition,'' Grentz said.

Woodard hit 5 of 7 field-goal attempts and both free-throw opportunities. But leadership might have been her greatest contribution on a day when overconfidence was a threat.

The United States had beaten Bulgaria 93-72 in the world championships.

``It's sort of hard for us to get up to face this particular team,'' Woodard said. ``We knew we could beat them, yet we had to be careful.''

The Americans never trailed, but the Bulgarians still were close at 33-27 with 9:15 to play.

In the next two minutes, the United States went on an 8-2 streak, capped by a pair of baskets by Woodard.

After that, Bulgaria twice cut its deficit to eight. But the Americans switched to a 3-2 zone defense in the final five minutes and went on a 12-4 run to a 55-39 halftime lead that all but decided the game.

Led by Teresa Edwards, who scored 19 points, the United States hit 58 percent of its shots (39 of 67). The Americans had a big edge in free throws (23 of 29 compared to 3 of 4 for Bulgaria) and in rebounding (41-19).

``We never fooled ourselves for a minute that we could beat our strongest competition,'' Bulgarian Coach Ivan Lepitchev said.

He added that he ``was sorry'' that his best player, 6-foot-4 center Polina Tzekova, had to leave ``at the beginning of the game.''

Tzekova picked up her fifth foul with 9:31 to play in the first half. By then she had scored a team-high six points and was leading both teams with five rebounds.

Tzekova stayed in the game even after picking up her fourth foul with 14:53 remaining in the half. Lepitchev said he did not consider taking her out, in accordance with traditional European strategy.

``It would have been much more dangerous if I had taken her out,'' Lepitchev said. ``She would have been more likely to get her fifth foul when she went back in. She is less likely to get a fifth if she stays in the game because she is more careful.''

Tzekova may have been more careful after getting her fourth foul. It took her only 5:07 to get four; it took her more than six minutes to get the fifth.

``If we had a lot of players like her, we would have been able to make changes right after the second or third foul,'' Lepitchev said.

Grentz seemed to understand, although she is not ready to adopt the theory.

``The way the game is played in the States, we would probably protect that particular player,'' Grentz said.

``I believe their philosophy is that if they have fouls they're not going to help the team sitting on the bench.''

Tzekova said it was not the quickest she has fouled out. That happened about 10 years ago, during an international junior tournament in the Soviet Union.

``Three minutes,'' Tzekova said. ``I had five fouls in three minutes.''

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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