Australia Serves Up First Loss For U.S. Women In Spring Training
Despite a double-double effort by both Candace Parker (Tennessee / Naperville, Ill.) and Tina Thompson (Houston Comets), who combined for 46 points and 21 rebounds, the 2006 USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team (10-1 / 4-1 Opals World Challenge) dropped its final game of spring training to host Australia (4-1) 76-65. In a little bit of consolation, the United States came away with a first place finish due to the fact that the USA's victory over Australia in Cairns was by 20 points. China (2-3) finished in third place after defeating Chinese Taipei (Taiwan / 0-5) 91-61.
Parker and Thompson's efforts throughout the tournament, which saw Parker average a team-high 18.0 ppg. and 8.4 rpg., and Thompson post averages of 17.0 ppg. and a USA-best 8.6 rpg., earned them a spot on the five-member All-Opals World Challenge Team. Australia's Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm was selected MVP, while China's Miao Lijie and Taipei's Feng-Chun Chiang rounded out the all-tournament mentions.
"We knew that Australia would come out in the second game, the game that really mattered to them. I have to give them credit, they played very well," said USA and Seattle Storm head coach Anne Donovan. "It's a reminder to everybody that the rest of the world is breathing down our necks and we have to play well to continue to stay ahead and we didn't do that tonight. We didn't shoot the ball well, didn't have good defensive possessions. That combination against a team that's playing on their own floor is really a tough thing to beat."
The Americans expected a tough battle and that's exactly what they got. The first half was evenly matched as the score went back and forth and at halftime the U.S. was on top 38-34. Parker already had 17 points on a perfect 8-of-8 from the field -- mostly up and over Jackson -- and Thompson notched 11 by halftime.
Australia ran out in the second half and started raining threes on the non-communicating U.S. defense. While the USA wasn't able to contain the hot hands of the Aussies, its offense found itself in trouble on the other end of the court. Australia went into a zone defense straight out of the locker room and the American women were stumped for a shot, allowing Australia to zoom to a 56-47 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the contest. The USA's third period frustrations are underscored by the fact that the squad managed to shoot just 4-of-17 (.235) from the field and 0-of-3 from beyond the arc, while the Aussies were on fire at 7-of-12 (.583) overall and a sizzling 6-of-8 (.750) from afar.
"I think we were off on defense," said Parker "You can't trade twos for threes. They hit six threes in the third quarter and two threes in the last minute. We can't do that."
"We just had some really big breakdowns defensively and they hit some big shots," said Thompson. "It probably would have been a little different if it was players who we don't expect to hit those shots, but we had a couple of mental breakdowns. Lauren (Jackson) shot some big 3-pointers, same with (Belinda) Snell. We know that they're capable of that. Mentally that's something that should always be in the back of our minds, because you know what they can do. We've played them several times and our coaching staff talked about those guys and not letting them get into their comfort zones. We did that, and that's not supposed to happen."
Australia picked up a cushion of two more points in the opening minutes of the fourth stanza and were up 64-53 at 5:56 as Alana Beard (Washington Mystics) picked up her fifth foul of the game. The Americans' defense came back to life and forced Australia into a couple misses and a shot clock violation, while pulling back to single digits, 66-60, with 3:59 to go. After an Australian field goal, Thompson hit a jumper on an inbounds play, Parker hit a free throw, followed by a Swin Cash (Detroit Shock) steal and another Thompson basket and at 2:11 the USA had the gap down to 68-65.
But the USA's comeback hopes were dashed when Snell swished in a three on her squad's next attempt to stoke the Aussies' fire and the U.S. once again was stifled on offense for the remainder of the game and finally fell to rival Australia 76-65.
Parker scored her 26 points on 12-of-14 shooting and finished with 10 boards, while Thompson's double-double was for 20 points and 11 rebounds. They were the only two players to score in double digits as Katie Smith (Detroit Shock) was next with nine points.
On a bright note, the United States outrebounded Australia 44-33.
Jackson (23 points) and Snell (20 points) combined for 43 of Australia's 76 points.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 in time for the second game. Due to flight delays, Augustus, the No. 1 selection by the Minnesota Lynx, met up with the team on Sunday in Canberra and played in the final three contests.
Sylvia Fowles (Louisiana State / Miami, Fla.) suffered a dislocated right shoulder in the USA's April 8 contest against Australia and did not compete in the remainder of the Opals World Challenge. Fowles averaged 9.0 ppg., 2.0 rpg. and 13 minutes a game before becoming injured.
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.