By Steve Keating

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - For every athlete who wins a gold medal at the Rio Olympics it will be a big deal. For the United States women's basketball team the big deal will be if they do not.

The U.S. women's team are one of the great Olympic dynasties, going for a sixth consecutive gold medal and riding a 41-0 unbeaten run that stretches back to the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

"What I hope happens is, that if we are fortunate enough to win a gold that it is a big deal instead of the big deal is, if we lose," said U.S. coach Geno Auriemma.

"They have done so much and probably because they have won so much they probably don't get the respect they truly deserve for how dominant they have been."

Since women's basketball became part of the Olympic program in 1976 the U.S. have lost just three games.

At London in 2012 in the preliminary round, only Croatia came within 25 points. In the quarter-finals the U.S. dismissed Canada 91-48 before seeing off biggest rivals Australia 86-73, then crushing an over matched France 86-50 in the final.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the U.S. women outscored opponents by an average of 35 points.

As the U.S. prepare for their Olympic opener against Senegal on Sunday, Auriemma said the current squad may be the best yet with nine of 12 players having already won gold medals.

Co-captains Tamika Catchings, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird have won three Olympic titles.

"The experience thing I like because we don't have a lot of time together so the fact that so many of them have been here before we don't say things so many times," said Auriemma.

"Where I think we are prepared is the mindset of having nine former Olympians, nine people who won that gold medal in London and six have done it more than once.

"Talent is important, skill level is important but I have come to appreciate at this time during the next two weeks experience and the ability to be smarter than the other guy is paramount."

Given their domination it would be easy to think that Auriemma has the easiest job at the Rio Games, though he said there was nothing easy about it.

"It wears me out," he said. "That is why this is such a hard job, the expectation level is through the roof.

"Jim Tooley, the head of USA Basketball has a great saying and reminds me every day, 'you know it is not whether you win or lose; until you lose'."

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)