USA Pulls Away From China 85-77
The 2006 USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team, behind a game-high 26 points from Candace Parker (Tennessee / Naperville, Ill.), upped its record to 7-0 in spring training exhibition play on Friday night with an 85-77 victory over China (0-1) in Cairns, Australia. The USA and China tipped-off the first night of the 2006 Opals World Challenge action, which also saw Australia (1-0) victorious over Chinese Taipei (0-1 / Taiwan) 97-54 in the night's second game.
The Australia-hosted Opals World Challenge continues in Cairns on April 8 at 6:00 p.m. (4:00 a.m. EDT), with China and Chinese Taipei pitted in the first contest and the U.S. will face Australia at 8:00 p.m. (6:00 a.m. EDT) in second game. The tournament then moves to Canberra, where the Americans will play China again on April 10, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) on April 11, and the tournament concludes with the second USA-Australia clash on April 12.
"It was a lot different to sit back and see it develop, not being in the mix," said acting USA head coach Dawn Staley (Temple University), who made an impressive inaugural appearance on the USA Basketball sidelines after an illustrious 15-year career in a red, white and blue uniform. "Certainly, I think my point guard intuitions kicked in when the game got tight, knowing what plays to run, knowing what I think will work over the course of a game, seeing how they were playing us. I wasn't able to play, but I was able to call some plays out there that ended up working."
"It felt really good to get out there and just play," said Parker, who also grabbed eight rebounds. "I've learned a lot playing with the older players. They've taught me a lot and I learned a lot during this game, they really helped me out a lot."
The U.S. needed all four quarters to put away China tonight in a tight contest that featured 13 lead changes and eight tied scores.
Going into the fourth period with the teams even at 48 points apiece, in less than a minute the United States found itself trailing 62-58. After an Alana Beard (Washington Mystics) bucket, Parker grabbed an errant Chinese pass, sprinted the length of the court and made an easy layup to knot the score once again at 62-all and by the 7:27 mark the score was again tied at 64-64. However, Parker, who scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, drove to the basket to put the U.S. ahead for good, 66-64, with 7:03 to go in the contest.
Following three good defensive stops, the United States was able to extend its lead to 73-64 with just under five minutes to play. China got its momentum back 10 seconds later when Chen Xiaoli was fouled while sinking a three and converted on the four-point play to cut the gap to five points, 73-68, with 4:40 to go. Continuing to chip away at the USA's defenses, China trailed by just two points, 79-77, with 41 seconds on the clock.
After 21 ticks, Tina Thompson (Houston Comets) nailed her shot inside to pad the lead 81-77. On the other end of the court Katie Smith (Detroit Shock) positioned herself perfectly on defense and took a hard charge, which put the ball back in the hands of the American women. China had no choice left but to foul and sent Beard, who posted one of the USA's two double-doubles with 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Swin Cash (Detroit Shock) to the line for the final points of the night as the United States came away with the win.
While neither team got into any kind of rhythm early, China started off by scoring seven unanswered points in the first four minutes. The U.S. came back and tied the score, but then there were four lead changes and the Americans closed out the first quarter on top 24-18.
China fought back and took the lead at 8:07 (25-24), but the game remained a tight affair and at halftime China was in the driver's seat 41-37. The United States spent the next 10 minutes trying to erase that deficit and by the time three quarters had expired the game was anyone's to win, 58-58.
Parker wasn't the only USA Basketball Senior National Team hopeful to put up some good numbers. Sylvia Fowles (Louisiana State / Miami, Fla.), who joined the squad after LSU's Final Four run, scored 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting, while adding four rebounds in just 12 minutes of play. Thompson finished as the game's leading rebounder with 12 boards to go with her 10 points. Beard and Kara Lawson (Sacramento Monarchs), who arrived in Australia after traveling over 35 hours from Boston just four hours before the game, passed off for four assists apiece.
The U.S., which received 40 points from its bench, shot 48.6 percent from the field (26-74 FGs) and outrebounded China 50-33. However, China, which made 25-of-31 (.806) of its charity attempts, notched 26 points off of 17 USA turnovers.
"It was just us not moving our feet," said Beard regarding the USA's foul situation. "I think tiredness might have been a factor in tonight's game. I don't want to put it all on that, but it could definitely be one of those (factors). China just plays smart basketball. They got us up in the air, we reached, and fell into their trap. We definitely gave them a lot of points, 25 points from the foul line, which kept them in the game."
Due to the timing of the 2006 WNBA Draft, USA head coach Anne Donovan (Seattle Storm) and USA assistant coach Mike Thibault of the Connecticut Sun, along with the 2006 No. 1 and No. 2 draft picks Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx / Louisiana State / Baton Rouge, La.) and Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix Mercury / Rutgers / Chicago, Ill.), respectively, will arrive in Australia after the team's first game. Because of that, USA assistant coach Staley acted as the team's head coach for its first game in Australia.
USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team
The USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team Committee, chaired by Reneé Brown, the WNBA's Chief of Basketball Operations and Player Relations, selected the athletes for the three spring training camps. The spring training will give the coaching staff and USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team Committee a chance to evaluate a variety of candidates competing for the 12 roster positions on the 2006 USA World Championship Team that will be announced later this summer.
Following the 2006 WNBA season, the USA will regroup in late August for a final training camp before heading to Brazil to defend its World Championship title at the 15th FIBA World Championship, slated to be played Sept. 12-23 in Sao Paulo.
Donovan will be assisted at the 2006 FIBA World Championship by Thibault and collegiate head coaches Gail Goestenkors of Duke University (N.C.) Staley.