Associated Press

BEIJING — The five-date slate of preliminary pool games for the 12 mens basketball teams at the Beijing Olympics has accomplished its purpose — providing the seeding for the eight quarterfinals and reflecting how dominant the gold-favorite United States really is.

But once in the quarterfinals, a slip here or a misstep there can result

in an upset loss, which in the quarterfinals means elimination, in the

semifinal finals means bronze medal at best, and in the championship game

means a perceived tarnished silver.

Up first for the United States in Wednesdays quarterfinals — Andrew

Bogut-led Australia, which after opening the Games with a pair of listless

performances ripped off three dominating victories in Group A.

Other quarterfinal pairings: Spain meets up-and-down Croatia, Lithuania

faces host China, and defending champion Argentina takes on Greece.

After the U.S. struggled to a 5-3 record and a much-maligned bronze at

the 2004 Athens Games, anything short of gold for star-studded Team USA will

earn public rebuke.

The United States thrashing of Group B peers did nothing but fuel the

fire of public expectations.

And the efforts of opponents to knock them off, as U.S. head coach Mike

Krzyzewsi has warned.

Every team we play from here on, said center Dwight Howard, "coach said

was going to be like a 'game seven and we have to stay focused.

Focused is what the Americans were through five pool games.

Consider the numbers:

Scoring — The United States is first in points scored at 103.0 a

game and tops in points allowed, only 70.8. And the five margins of victory 29 points in the opener against China, followed by a charitable 21 against

winless Angola, then 23 versus Greece, 37 in blowing out then-undefeated

Spain, and 49 in the finale with Germany.

Shooting — After a couple of off outings, the U.S. ended up

shooting a collective 55 percent from the floor and allowing opponents just

37 percent. Thats 64 percent to 43 on two-pointers and 36 percent to 27

percent for 3-pointers, the latter an area where critics wondered if the

Americans could stop the international sharpshooters.

Defense — The United States has created 114 turnovers but

committed just 69, tripled the amount of steals made versus given up (72 to

24) and blocked 21 shots to having been stuffed 14 times.

Balance — Unlike other Olympic squads, the U.S. is not counting

just on one or two mainstays. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are ninth and

tied for 10th in scoring average, but both are in the top six in FG

percentage and total field goals made.

And when it comes to unselfishness, the U.S. has three — James, Chris

Paul and Deron Williams — ranked in the tournaments top 10 in assists.

As the Americans and Aussies get set to square off in their

quarterfinal, both teams temper acknowledgement of the opponent with some

quiet confidence.

Australia plays a completely different style of game than we played

[against Germany], said Kobe Bryant. They run a continuity offense and

they are very proficient at it, and they run hard cuts and set hard picks.

They are real smart, so it will be a different ball game.

Countered Bogut: I have not seen them play with such a chip on their

shoulders since the Dream Team of 92, especially with Kobe running the

show. They have a different mentality. They are trying to kill teams, and

they are going to try to knock us out with the first punch, but we have to

stay calm.

Even the coaches got into the act.

They are probably playing their best basketball at the moment, and they

can put points on, said Krzyzewski of Australia.

Said Brian Goorjian, his counterpart. We get a chance to step up to the

plate and have a swipe at the big dog. I dont know if we can or cant beat

them, but I like how Australias playing. Im confident we will get out and

play ball.