2006 USA Women Fight Past Lotos Gdynia For 66-61 Win
Trailing their hosts 55-49 with 7:35 to play in the game, the 2006 USA Basketball Senior National Team (2-0) fought back and came out on top of Lotos 66-61 on Wednesday night in Gdynia, Poland. Katie Smith (Detroit Shock) led the charge with 19 points and Swin Cash (Detroit Shock) aided in the attack with 13. The United States will conclude its first European tour with a rematch against Lotos on March 9 at 6:00 p.m. (12:00 p.m. ET) in Starograd Gdanski.
"Lotos played very, very well," said USA and Seattle Storm head coach Anne Donovan. "We were forced to do a lot of different things that we really hadn't worked on, like the zone, tonight. They did a lot of good things to stay in the game and really made us work hard for the win. They're a very good team, we recognize they're one player down without Biba (2006 EuroLeague All-Star Agnieszka Bibrzycka) and we'll have our hands full tomorrow night."
An improvisational zone defense and Diana Taurasi's (Phoenix Mercury) only buckets of the game helped the American women recover in the fourth quarter. With the game tied at 59-apiece, Taurasi found the bottom of the basket with 1:04 to play to put the U.S. ahead for good, 61-59. The red, white and blue was not out of the woods yet, however. Lotos' Temeka Johnson (Los Angeles Sparks) drove in for a bucket, but Kara Braxton (Detroit Shock) grabbed the board and the USA pushed the ball back up the court and with 37 seconds to go Taurasi hit a key 3-pointer to provide a four-point, 64-59, cushion.
The U.S. used a smothering defense on the other end that resulted in two whistles. However, the Americans still had two fouls to give so Lotos only received a pair of resets, the second one coming with 25 seconds to go. Lotos worked the ball around and with 19 showing on the clock Taurasi went to block a shot, but instead was whistled for her fifth foul of the game and Lotos was sent to the line for its final two points of the contest.
"I think games like that build character and everyone's comments after the game were, we can't wait to get back to the next game tomorrow.' So you love to see that type of energy," said Cash. "We're still a young team, we're learning, not only the system, but learning how to represent your country basically. Even though we have five Olympians here who have gone through it, (three of us) were pretty young on the Olympic team, so I'm just happy to see the fight in us."
The game was tightly contested from the opening tip, with defenses on both ends disrupting shots and causing turnovers. Despite that fact, at the end of 10 minutes of play the USA was ahead 16-9. Energized by a deafening packed house, Lotos inched back into the game and by halftime the United States' lead had been whittled to 34-33.
In the first half alone the combined shooting of both teams was a frigid 35.6 percent with the U.S. making 39.2 percent (11-28 FGs) of its tries and Lotos hitting 32.3 percent (10-31 FGs).
Smith scored eight points in a 10-2 USA tear to go up 44-35 less than two minutes into the second half. But Lotos, spurred by six points from Johnson, would not go away and outscored the United States 17-4 through the remainder of the stanza. Hitting one of two from the line to start the fourth quarter, with 8:55 left in the game Lotos was in the lead 53-48. Cash converted one of two from the stripe and Johnson put up two more points as Lotos took its largest lead of the game, 55-49, at 7:35.
"You know we made runs and then we let them get back in it," said Taurasi. "We have a young team, we've never played together, so we have to get used to each other. That team's a good European team, people made shots at the end and we played well to win."
Both teams were each without a top player as DeLisha Milton-Jones (Washington Mystics) and Agnieszka Bibrzycka competed in the 2006 EuroLeague All-Star Game in the Czech Republic tonight. Both players are expected back for Thursday night's rematch between the two squads.
Cash and Smith, who shot 4-of-5 from beyond the arc, were the only two U.S. players to score in double digits, however, Braxton finished with eight points and a game-high six rebounds, Chasity Melvin (Washington Mystics) tossed in seven points and Taurasi dished out four assists.
Ewelina Kobryn scored a team-best 16 points for her squad, while Johnson had 12 and Chelsea Newton (Chicago Sky) and Rankica Sarenac each chipped in 10 points.
In the final tally, the United States also edged Lotos in shooting percentage with 37.0 percent (20-54 FGs) to 36.8 percent (21-57 FGs) from the field. The USA also outrebounded Lotos 32-27.
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.