RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — U.S. women's water polo coach Adam Krikorian shook his head in disgust after an ugly turnover in the third. He put in five new swimmers after China scored in the fourth, and then clapped his hands at his bench as if trying for a late wake-up call.
And it hardly mattered. The United States was in complete control right from the start, never in danger of losing to overmatched China. It turns out winning isn't the only thing for the defending world and Olympic champions.
"We're more concerned with how we play and trying to be as consistent as possible," Krikorian said after the United States' 12-4 victory on Thursday. "I don't think I saw that in the second half and when you play every other day, there's no reason to rest. We're getting plenty of rest on our off days and we just got to keep it into a high gear there."
The United States improved to 36-2 in 2016 with its 18th straight victory, rolling to titles on three continents before beating Spain 11-4 in its Olympic opener on Tuesday. It has scored in double figures 17 times during its win streak, totaling 231 goals overall and outscoring opponents by an average of seven goals.
But captain Maggie Steffens dismissed any notion of complacency as the U.S. tries to become the first country to win consecutive Olympic titles in women's water polo.
"Each game is a gold-medal game," Steffens said. "Each game is an opportunity for us to represent the USA, and that's the motivation."
Steffens scored three of her four goals as the United States jumped to a 7-1 lead at the break. But it grew more careless with the ball as the game went along, including the third-quarter turnover during a rare 6-on-4 power play that prompted Krikorian's exasperated reaction.
"We had too many turnovers that game," U.S. attacker Kaleigh Gilchrist said. "China capitalized on a few, but they could have capitalized on a lot more, and knowing as we go ahead opponents are going to try to look to do that, so we have to tighten a few things up."
The United States' only two losses so far this year are to Australia, 5-4 on May 26 in California and 5-4 on May 31 in China. But the Aussie Stingers lost 8-7 to Italy on Thursday, a potentially costly result that could force them into a semifinal matchup with the United States.
Australia's Rowie Webster tied it at 7 with 2:37 to go, but Roberta Bianconi had a power-play goal for Italy with 34 seconds remaining.
"I think the game was won and lost in the extra-man goals that they scored and we potentially missed," Webster said.
Australia faces winless Brazil on Saturday on the final day of the preliminary round. Italy, which leads Group A with four points, takes on Russia, Spain plays against China, and the United States faces Hungary. The quarterfinals begin Monday.
Italy's Giulia Gorlero, splashing the water at times in celebration or frustration, had 10 saves in the victory over the Aussies.
"Our match is very important for us," Golero said through a translator. "But that's not enough. ... Our tournament starts in the quarterfinals."
Also Thursday, Ekaterina Prokofyeva and Evgeniya Ivanova scored three goals apiece to lead Russia to a 14-7 win against Brazil, and Judith Forca Ariza scored in the fourth to help Spain hold on for an 11-10 victory over Hungary.