SEATTLE, AUG. 1 -- There is one U.S. basketball team that doesn't lose to the Soviet Union these days, and it is the American women's team.

Behind by eight at halftime, the United States, the reigning world champions, held the Soviets to just two points in the first seven minutes of second half and won with ease, 86-78, tonight at the Goodwill Games at the Seattle Center Arena.

The United States was led by forward Katrina McClain's 23 points, but it was the play of two-time Olympian Teresa Edwards that brought the team back. After scoring just two points in the first half and missing four of five shots from the field, Edwards, a 26-year-old forward who plays professionally in Japan, connected on six of 10 shots (one a three-pointer) in the second half. She also made one free throw for a total of 14 points in the half. She and forward Vickie Orr finished with 16 points each.

The Americans also happened to be flawless from the free throw line: 23 of 23.

The Soviets were led by forward Natalia Zassoulskaia's 20 points.

"We had to work pretty hard for this one," said U.S. Coach Theresa Grentz of Rutgers University. "We learned how good we can be, but also how hard we have to work for it."

Soviet Coach Evgeni Gomelski, brother of the legendary men's coach, Alexander Gomelski, said, simply, in English: "U.S.S.R. not good."

"America's women's team did fantastic job," he added.

The Americans are heavy favorites to win the gold medal here this weekend as the Games draw to a close, and with good reason. They win everything in international basketball. While the U.S. men have been floundering, trying to figure out how to play the game they invented on the international level, the U.S. women have been dominating. They have won the last two Olympic gold medals, the last two World Championships and won the 1986 Goodwill Games.

Tonight they struggled in the first half against a rebuilding Soviet team that finished fifth at the recent World Championships. They missed their first seven shots. They were behind by 14 late in the first half. It was the first time this American team, formed in the spring, had been behind by 10 or more points.

It also probably will be the last time.

"They have more to gain," said forward Cynthia Cooper, who scored 13 points, trying to find an explanation for the first half. "We have the upper hand on them these days."

One of the reasons the U.S. team is so good is that it is full of veterans with international experience. Only three U.S. players are still in college.

Edwards, the former Georgia all-American, is, arguably, the best player in the world. She averaged 21.9 points, three assists and 2.3 steals per game in eight-game world championships just completed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She averaged 16.6 points per game on 61 percent shooting at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Unable to play professionally in the United States because there is no women's league, she now plays in Japan.

"I go wherever my legs take me," she said. "I would like to play the game forever."

Edwards has been on all the U.S. national teams since 1984.

"When I was growing up, my heroes were the men players," she said. "Dr. J {Julius Erving} was the man. How fair was that to me? I love Dr. J, but I can't play in the NBA?"

Edwards got hot in second half tonight. She gave the United States its first lead, 58-56, with 12:03 remaining to be played on a reverse lay-in off the fast break. The last time the United States was so close was 6-6.