2006 USA National Team Takes First Victory With 95-78 Win Over MKB Euroleasing Sopron
The 2006 USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team (1-0) received 24 points from DeLisha Milton-Jones (Washington Mystics) and 21 from Katie Smith (Detroit Shock) as it opened exhibition play with a 95-78 victory over host MKB Euroleasing in Sopron, Hungary, on Monday evening. The U.S. will continue its first European Tour in Gdynia, Poland, with a pair of games against Lotos on March 8 and 9 at 6:00 p.m. (12:00 p.m. ET).
"I think, again for the first time out, we did a really nice job offensively," said USA and Seattle Storm head coach Anne Donovan, a four-time Olympic team member who got her first victory in her first game as a USA Basketball head coach. "We scored a lot of points, we shot the ball very well, particularly from the 3-point line. So it's nice to see that. Defensively we've got a lot of work to do and we'll need to get focused on that once we get to Poland."
After a tight first quarter that ended with the U.S. on top 19-18, Kristen Mann (Minnesota Lynx) scored six points in a 14-2 run that opened up the game 33-20 with 5:49 to play in the first period. 2004 Olympic and former UConn teammates Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) each nailed a 3-pointer during the scoring spree, while Milton-Jones stole the ball, ran the length of the court and put up the final points of the run. By halftime, the score stood in favor of the Americans, 49-38.
The third quarter opened with a pair of spurts. The United States ran the score to 60-42 at 6:55, but MKB Euroleasing countered with some back door, uncontested layups during a 9-0 run and got back in the game, 60-51, at 4:12. However, by the time the third quarter buzzer sounded the American women were back up by 11, 71-60.
In the final stanza the United States' defensive lapses allowed MKB to close the gap to five, 73-68, with 8:05 to go. However, behind the play of its veteran gold medalists, the USA refused to let it get any tighter. Milton-Jones went up for a jumper, followed by a 3-pointer on the USA's next possession to kick-off the power play. Smith followed with a pair of points from the line and then after nabbing the ball from a Sopron player, was fouled going up and made one of her two tries to give the U.S. another 11-point cushion, 81-70, at 5:21.
"I think that experience pays big dividends and in this situation it showed up huge," said Milton-Jones. "When you have people out there who understand the European game and the play at crunch time, I think we went out there and did just that. We hunkered down, got some big buckets and started shutting people down defensively. As a result we won the game."
Olympic champions continued to pave the way to the finish line as Smith, Milton-Jones and Taurasi each nailed a 3-pointer on the USA's next three possessions and the game was well in hand, 90-74, with 2:50 remaining.
Kara Lawson (Sacramento Monarchs) was the only non-Olympic gold medalist to score for the United States in the fourth quarter after burying a 3-pointer with 16 seconds to go in the contest.
In addition to the combined 45 points from Milton-Jones and Smith, the USA's effort was further bolstered by 10 points from Bird, Swin Cash (Detroit Shock) notched eight and Chasity Melvin (Washington Mystics) added seven. Milton-Jones missed a double-double by one board after finishing with a game-high nine rebounds.
Sopron's 6-5 Ivana Matkovic and 6-2 Astou Ndiaye came up with 14 points apiece, while 5-10 guard Kata Honti added 11.
As a team, the United States shot a respectable 57.4 percent (35-61 FGs) from the field, including a sizzling 66.7 percent (14-21 3pt FGs) from afar. The unselfish nature of the red, white and blue translated into 22 assists on 35 field goals.
Kara Braxton (Detroit Shock) did not compete against the Sopron team due to a sore right foot and is listed as day to day. X-rays taken today of Braxton's foot and evaluated by USA Basketball and Minnesota Lynx physician Dr. Sheldon Burns showed no sign of injury.
Donovan is being assisted on the sidelines in Europe by 2006 USA World Championship assistant and WNBA Connecticut Sun head coach Mike Thibault, the only coach known to have served as a coach for a USA Basketball men's and women's team. Collegiate head coaches Gail Goestenkors of Duke University (N.C.) and Dawn Staley of Temple University (Pa.), have also been selected to assist Donovan and the U.S. squad at the 2006 World Championship, but are unable to aid in Europe due to their collegiate coaching commitments.
USA Basketball, which is in the middle of the first of three training camps, will also compete and train in Europe March 17-24, and will conduct its final leg of training beginning in Boston, Mass., March 31-April 4 and concluding with the April 7-12 Australia-hosted Opals World Challenge. Participating athletes will be announced prior to each training session. The USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team Committee will utilize these three spring training camps, as well as a portion of the WNBA season, to evaluate players for the final12-member team that will represent the United States at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sept. 12-23.