USA Continues Winning Ways With 83-63 Victory Over Australia
USA veterans Katie Smith (Detroit Shock) and Tina Thompson (Houston Comets) helped lead the 2006 USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team (8-0, 2-0 Opals World Challenge) to an 83-63 victory Saturday night against rival and host Australia (1-1) in Cairns. The duo combined for 29 points, 19 of which came during the final 15 minutes of play when the U.S. finally pulled away from the Opals for good. In the night's first game China (1-1) outgunned Chinese Taipei (Taiwan / 0-2) 85-58.
The Opals World Challenge moves to Canberra, where the Americans will play China again on April 10 at 10:30 a.m. (April 7, 8:30 p.m. EDT), followed by a 6:00 p.m. (4:00 a.m. EDT) tip-off against Chinese Taipei on April 11, and the tournament concludes with the second USA-Australia clash on April 12 at 8:00 p.m. (6:00 a.m. EDT).
"On defense we have some work to do, no question. But that's the hardest piece," said USA and Seattle Storm head coach Anne Donovan. "When you put a group together, it's the hardest piece - to be able to get everyone playing in a system the way that you want. We need to do a better job of that. We're giving away way too many free throws. Our opponents shot 72 free throws in the last two games so we have to get a lot better defensively. But we will as we get more comfortable with each other. I was really pleased with everybody stepping up. We have a lot of young kids handling the point position right now and Australia came right at us and pressured us. Twenty turnovers are too many, but overall we handled that nicely.
The first half was a tough see-saw battle. Australia won the opening tip and went up 5-0 early. Smith broke the scoring drought at 7:10 and after that point no team managed more than a four-point lead through the half. The first quarter closed at an even 17 points apiece and Australia edged the United States 18-17 in the second to close the half up 35-34. The USA's first-half struggles came, in part, due to Australia receiving 16 points on 26 attempts from the line, while the United States shot 11-of-14 from the line.
"By fouling it took us out of a lot of things that we excel in," said Kara Lawson (Sacramento Monarchs), who finished with nine points. "We weren't able to get as many transition opportunities that we would have hoped for. We weren't able to get our defense going and turn out some turnovers. I think it hurts our overall team flow, yes, but as individuals it's not too hard to get into the flow. We just have to get better defensively."
The U.S. struck first to open the third quarter and following an Alana Beard-assisted (Washington Mystics) Thompson basket at 8:10 the Americans owned a lead it would never relinquish, 38-36. The game remained a tight affair, however, and at 5:21, after five Aussie points from the stripe, the USA was up by a slim 44-42 at 5:21.
With just under 15 minutes remaining in the game Smith took an inbounds pass from Thompson to spark a 9-0 run, from which Australia would never recover. On the Opals ensuing possession the United States came up with a steal, Smith rolled off a pick and launched a 3-pointer, that was followed by a Swin Cash (Detroit Shock) put back and Jessica Davenport (Ohio State / Columbus, Ohio) capped the scoring spurt with a bucket inside and the American women, with the aid of several defensive stops, had suddenly gone up by 11, 53-42, with 2:24 left in the period. Australia finally came to with 1:58 to go and as time expired Jennifer Screen popped up a three as the Aussies closed to 57-51.
"I think we decided to be a little more aggressive," said Smith. "Obviously we also picked it up defensively, but we needed to go ahead and get some good looks and knock them down. For myself it's just a matter of not just sliding into the background, but stepping up and making shots, knocking them down. That got us going a little bit. Tina (Thompson) started hitting a few too. I hit a couple, she hit a couple and it gave us a little cushion that helped us down the stretch. We didn't have to sweat it out too much."
With some help on the defensive end, Thompson opened the final stanza with seven points in a 13-2 U.S. run that cracked the game wide open, 70-53, with 6:49 to go. The U.S. never looked back and came away with the win.
Smith, who finished with 16 points, was whistled for four fouls; while Thompson scored 13 and Cash grabbed a team-high eight rebounds to go with her six points. Sylvia Fowles (Louisiana State / Miami, Fla.), who posted eight points in 14 minutes, suffered a dislocated right shoulder during the third quarter and retired from the contest.
Belinda Snell was Australia's leading scorer with 16 points, while Lauren Jackson and Laura Summerton each chipped in 12 points apiece.
The USA, which shot a blistering 64.3 percent (18-28 FGs) in the second half, capped the night shooting 48.3 percent (29-60 FGs), while limiting Australia to 33.3 percent (17-51 FGs) from the field overall. The U.S., which received 41 points from the bench and 26 points off turnovers, won the battle of the boards 41-32.
Due to the timing of the 2006 WNBA Draft, Donovan, USA assistant coach Mike Thibault of the Connecticut Sun and the No. 2 pick Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix Mercury / Rutgers / Chicago, Ill.) arrived in Cairns this afternoon. Due to flight delays, Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx / Louisiana State / Baton Rouge, La.), the No. 1 selection by the Minnesota Lynx, will meet up with the team on Sunday in Canberra.
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.) and Dawn
Staley of Temple University (Pa.). Because of Donovan and Thibault's
delayed arrival in Australia Staley served as head coach for the squad's
first contest on April 7.