U.S. Olympic Women’s team defeats Nigeria 81-72 on Tuesday night

When you’re chasing history, nothing comes easy. But the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team (1-0) knew that coming into Tuesday’s opening contest at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Having already had to wait a year when the Games were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the veteran-led U.S. team wasn’t going to let an early deficit derail its pursuit of a seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal.

Behind A’ja Wilson’s and Brittney Griner’s double-doubles and the formidable presence of Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, the U.S. topped Nigeria (0-1) 81-72 at Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo. It was the 50th consecutive Olympic victory for the U.S., a streak that began when the Americans won bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Not that the players were keeping track.

“We don’t really count them,” Taurasi said. “We have too much respect for all these countries, and we know the next one’s the most important one. I think it’s a great feat. It tells you all the great players and coaches that have come through USA Basketball and just the kind of culture we’ve built.”

Wilson, in her Olympic debut, had 19 points and 13 rebounds, while Griner finished with 13 point and 10 boards. Taurasi, who along with Bird is going after a record fifth gold medal, had 10 first-half points. Though Bird didn’t score, she did have 13 assists and four rebounds. Her 11th assist gave her 100 for her Olympic career.

“Oh, my gosh, I had to get the jitters out in the beginning, but it was a great feeling,” said Wilson, the reigning WNBA MVP with the Las Vegas Aces. “My teammates really helped me kind of calm my nerves and just play my game.”

Next up for the U.S. in Group B is host Japan (1-0), which upset France (0-1) 74-70. Tipoff is Friday at 12:40 a.m. EDT.

Taurasi was back in action for the first time since July 3. A hip muscle strain that kept her out of all three exhibition games in Las Vegas came after she missed more than a month with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury due to a fractured sternum.

“I felt pretty good,” said Taurasi, who was 3-of-6 shooting and had two rebounds in 23 minutes. “If I just keep getting a little stronger, a little bit better and whatever I can do to help, that’s what I’m here for.”

The U.S. came out sluggish, missing its first four shots and turning the ball over four times. The Americans were down 8-1 before Taurasi hit the first USA basket with 6:14 left in the first quarter. That started an 11-0 run, capped by a Jewell Loyd 3-pointer with 4:18 remaining, for a 12-8 lead.

Nigeria — which is ranked 17th in the world and lost to the U.S. 93-62 in a Las Vegas pre-Olympic exhibition — regained the lead at the end of the first quarter on Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah’s 3-pointer.

Neither team shot well in the first quarter, with Nigeria at 23.8% (5-of-24) and the USA at 33.3% (5-of-15). Nigeria went 8-of-10 from the free-throw line, however, while the U.S. committed eight first-quarter turnovers.

“I felt we had to adjust to the style of play that Nigeria was playing,” said U.S. head coach Dawn Staley. “They crowded our space for 94 feet. It took us probably a quarter and a half to really adjust to it. Once we did, we found ourselves just opening up the game.

“But those turnovers lingered throughout the entire game. And sometimes you have to win playing a different style of play, and we certainly had to do that tonight.”

Nigeria then went up 25-20 after Promise Amukamara’s hoop with 8:07 left in the half. That’s when the USA took off on its 23-0 burst and eventual 44-32 advantage at halftime. The Americans got out into transition in the second quarter, which helped them convert 68.8% (11-of-16) of their shots.

The Americans opened the second half on a 14-4 run to create a cushion. Nigeria stayed aggressive and went on a 12-0 run to pull within 75-67 with 3:20 left, but the U.S. rattled off the next six points to end the comeback threat.

“We know that basketball is a game of runs, so at the end of the day, we just had to be consistent in what we were doing and get us back, keep doing what got us the lead,” Wilson said. “Sometimes you kind of mentally fatigue, but then we snapped back, and we got back in it.”

By playing in her 33rd Olympic game Tuesday, Taurasi took sole possession of the Taurasi took sole possession of the overall women’s Olympic basketball record.

“It’s just lucky, you know?” Taurasi said of her longevity. “You put all those years in all those camps and you never think that you’ll be able to play so many. For one, I’m lucky enough. It’s just being around a really good group of people, from USA Basketball management to players and coaches, just really lucky, really fortunate.”

Photo/article courtesy: Team USA

2020 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team revealed, Taurasi, Bird selected for fifth time

With just over four weeks to go before the 2020 Olympic Opening Ceremony, the 2020 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team was unveiled this morning in front of a nationally televised audience on NBC’s TODAY show and features two now five-time Olympians, one four-time Olympian, one three-time Olympian, two who will be competing in their second Olympics and six who will step on the Olympic court for the first time this summer.

Team selections for the six-time defending Olympic gold medalists USA were made by the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Player Selection Committee and pending approval by the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

Headlining the team are longtime USA National Team members Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury), who each donned a USA Basketball jersey for the first time in 2000 and own a combined eight Olympic and seven FIBA World Cup gold medals, and three-time Olympic gold medalist Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx), who also captured gold at the 2010 FIBA World Cup.

Expecting to play in a third Olympic Games is Tina Charles (Washington Mystics), a three-time World Cup gold medalist; while 2016 Olympic gold medalists Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury) and Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm), each of whom have captured at two World Cup gold medals, return to chase a second Olympic gold in Tokyo.

Two athletes who are pursuing their first Olympic gold medal and who already own a FIBA World Cup gold medal are Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm) and A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces).

Stepping onto the world stage for the first time at a FIBA senior-level five-on-five competition will be Ariel Atkins (Washington Mystics), Napheesa Collier (Minnesota Lynx), Skylar Diggins-Smith (Phoenix Mercury) and Chelsea Gray (Las Vegas Aces).

“USA Basketball has never been in a better place,” said U.S. Olympic Team head coach Dawn Staley (South Carolina), who claimed three gold medals as an athlete and helped guide two more Olympic teams to gold as an assistant coach. “I’m honored to be the coach of such an amazing collection of talented women, both those named to the team and those who gave their all the last few years but won’t be with us in Tokyo. The fact that some of the players who won’t suit up this summer would start for any other country is a testament to their talent and to what USA Basketball has done to build a program that lifts up our female athletes every single day.  I’m so proud to be the coach of Team USA and like all of the coaches, support staff, and our players, I can’t wait to make America proud this summer.”

The XXXII Olympic Games women’s basketball competition will be held July 26-Aug. 8 at the Saitama Super Arena, Saitama, Japan.

Additionally, the team includes four athletes who have been named USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year a combined nine times. Taurasi leads the list with four (2006, 2010, 2012, 2016), Stewart earned it three times (2011, 2013, 2018) and Charles (2009) and Wilson (2015) also have earned the honor.

All 12 athletes took part in the 2019-20 USA Basketball National Team expanded training program which saw the USA post a 17-1 record, including 5-1 against NCAA Division I teams in exhibition games and 12-0 versus international teams in FIBA-sanctioned competitions.

With their fifth Olympics looming, Bird and Taurasi are poised to join an extremely elite club. Since 1936 when men’s basketball first was officially included on the Olympic program and 1976 when women’s basketball was first played in the Olympics, only six athletes worldwide have competed in five Olympic basketball competitions. In addition to the USA’s Teresa Edwards, who captured four gold medals and one bronze medal from 1984-2000, Spain’s Juan Carlos Navarro (2000-16, two silver medals and one bronze medal), Brazil’s Adriana Moisés Pinto (2000-16, one bronze medal) and Oscar Schmidt (1980-96), Australia’s Andrew Gaze (1984-2000) and Puerto Rico’s Teófilo Cruz (1960-76) round out the list.

Additionally, Fowles will join a short list of American basketball players who have competed in at least four Olympics. In addition to Bird, Edwards and Taurasi, USA Basketball four-time Olympians include Carmelo Anthony (2004-2016), Tamika Catchings (2004-2016) and Lisa Leslie (1996-2008).