2006 USA Women Cap First European Tour With 69-54 Victory Over Lotos Gdynia

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March 9, 2006 • Starograd Gdanski, Poland
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Diana Taurasi averaged during the three-game European tour a team fourth best 6.7 points and 3.3 assists a game.

DeLisha Milton-Jones (Washington Mystics) checked in for a team-high 15 points to lead the 2006 USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team (3-0) past Lotos Gdynia 69-54 on Thursday night in Starogard Gdanski, Poland. With the victory the U.S. concluded its first European tour with a perfect 3-0 record against top professional squads.

A different roster, which will include some athletes from this squad, will be announced early next week prior to USA Basketball reassembling in Mondeville, France, on March 17 for its second European exhibition schedule. The United States will face Mondeville on March 20, followed by a March 22 contest against a Hungarian All-Star team in Györ, Hungary, and the tour concludes with a game against MiZo Pécsi in Pécs, Hungary, on March 24.

"We kept the lead pretty much throughout the game with a nice 10-point cushion," said USA and Seattle Storm head coach Anne Donovan. "But there were many times I thought we could have advanced it even further. Overall the things we had to do better tonight, we did. Defending was one of our primary goals and we kept that goal, holding them under 55 points. Offensive rebounds, we had very few last night and we came up with 21 tonight. Specific things like that we were looking to do tonight we did fairly well."

The United States won the tip and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) opened the scoring with a jumper at 3:30 to give the U.S. a lead it would never relinquish. Lotos kept things close for much of the first quarter and trailed 19-16 at 2:27. However, that was as narrow as things would get as the Americans capped the period with a 5-2 run to go up 24-18.

Playing tighter defense that resulted in five Lotos turnovers, while also getting second chances at the basket, the Americans began to pull away in the second quarter. After a slow start, Milton-Jones drove inside at 7:22 to jump-start the USA's offense. That sparked a 12-4 run that saw four different players score and pushed the United States' advantage to 36-22 with 1:39 to go in the first half. The score was never again under double digits as the United States closed the half ahead 39-26.

By the end of three, the USA still held a 13-point lead, 56-43, and finished out the game for the eventual 54-69 win.

"I wasn't here for the first game, but I knew coming into this game that coach Donovan was going to really emphasize defense," said Milton-Jones. "Tonight we set goals for ourselves defensively and goals for rebounding and we accomplished them. Overall I think that the past week that we've been together, I've seen a steady improvement with this team. It's a new group and it takes time for a team to come together, but I think everyone put in a good effort to try to make the most out of this opportunity."

The USA's 69 points were distributed well as Katie Smith (Detroit Shock) was the only other player in double digits with 11 points. Taurasi finished with nine, Swin Cash (Detroit Shock) and Nicole Ohlde (Minnesota Lynx) each contributed seven, while Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) and Becky Hammon (New York Liberty) chipped in five points apiece. Kara Braxton (Detroit Shock) started and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds, half of which came off the offensive glass.

Lotos' double inside threat of 6-5 center Ewelina Kobryn (14 points, 14 rebounds) and 6-7 center Rankica Saranec (12 points) paced their team again tonight. The duo also came up with a combined 26 points in the first meeting on March 8.

Free throws helped Lotos stay in the game as they shot 16-of-24 from the stripe on 16 U.S. fouls, while the United States earned just seven points (7-9 FTs) from the line. While the USA finished the contest shooting 38.4 percent (28-73 FGs) from the field, 21 offensive rebounds gave the Americans numberous second chances at a basket. Outrebounding Lotos 44-31, the red, white and blue forced 20 Lotos turnovers, while only committing 14 of its own.

"It might be Sopron versus Poland because we did not shoot the ball well here," added Donovan. "We were under 40 percent again tonight, but the difference tonight was that you get offensive boards, you get yourself to the free throw line, whereas last night we didn't get second chances."

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 has just concluded 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.

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