USA Women's Senior National Team Eclipses Australia 56-49
The 2006 USA Women's Senior National Team exacted a bit of revenge over Australia in a 56-49 defensive fight Thursday night on Coach K Court at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. The USA, which will begin 2006 FIBA World Championship play in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Sept. 12 against China, was led by Tina Thompson's (Houston Comets) double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds as the squad capped its 10-day Durham training camp.
The last time these two nations met in a non-major international game was in the final game of the 2006 Opals World Challenge on April 12 in Canberra, Australia, as the U.S. fell to the Aussies 76-74.
"We have been focusing on our defense a lot which is a tough thing to buy into and I thought the girls did a great job with that end," said USA and Seattle Storm head coach Anne Donovan. "Offensively we stayed with just our motion offense for the most part so you didn't see a lot of variation of what we ran and I thought we did a good job, considering that one offensive set. I was really pleased with the effort. This was a great environment for us. I know Alana Beard was excited to be back. What a great place to play."
The game was tight from the start and with 10:25 to play in the first half Australia was up by one, 13-12. However, with six seconds remaining on the first quarter clock Alana Beard (Washington Mystics), playing on her collegiate home court, hit a jumper and the Americans never again trailed.
"It was a great feeling being back," said Beard. "I started getting hyped when the band starting playing when we were out there warming up. I started reminiscing about being out there, starting in the games. So that was really exciting for me."
By the 8:49 mark in the second period the USA's lead was back to one, 16-15. For close to two minutes neither team was able to convert and at 6:42 Thompson ended the scoring drought by sinking a pair from the stripe. That was followed by a 3-pointer from DeLisha Milton-Jones (Washington Mystics) and a bucket from Thompson as the USA went up 23-15 at 5:01.
Again the defensive intensity on both ends of the court stifled the scoring until Australia's Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm was sent to the line with 38 seconds before halftime. Taurasi finished off the half with a layup and when the buzzer sounded the U.S. was in the lead 25-17.
Australia tied the game at 25-all early in the third period, but five U.S. players scored in a 16-2 run that gave the United States its largest lead of the night, 41-27, with 13:37 remaining. Although the USA held Australia scoreless for close to four minutes (4:54 to 1:18) of the third quarter, the American women couldn't get things going on the offensive end and by the end of three periods the USA's lead was 41-31.
Forcing the USA into missed shots and turnovers, Australia scratched its way back into the game and with 2:16 to go the lead was cut to 50-45. However, the U.S. refused to let the Aussies get closer as the USA finished with the 56-49 win.
"I think (our motion offense) was going a little stagnant," said Thompson. "We have a lot of new faces on our team and sometimes we're faced with a little unfamiliarity and I think soemtimes players were trying to be a little bit too unselfish at times, passing up shots and stuff like that. I think I was most proud of our defense, we didn't score as much offensively as we had been in practice against the guys and everything. But defensively we held them. So if we're not scoring it's great if we can keep the other team from not scoring as well."
In addition to Thompson's double-double, Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) posted 10 points, while Milton-Jones finished with nine points and seven rebounds. Thompson and Candace Parker (Tennessee / Naperville, Ill.), who was named to the USA World Championship Team on Wednesday, each had three blocked shots.
Penny Taylor of the Phoenix Mercury scored a high of 14 points for her squad, Kristi Harrower grabbed a team-best 10 rebounds and Jackson was held to seven points.
Neither team connected well on their shots from the field as the USA posted 35.9 percent (23-64 FGs) shooting and Australia was at 31.6 percent (18-57 FGs). The USA edged its opponents in the rebounding column, 43-39. The two teams' defensive efforts produced 35 turnovers, 20 on Australia and 15 on the USA.
Two members of the USA and Detroit Shock squad, Cheryl Ford and Katie Smith, who will play Game 5 of the 2006 WNBA Finals against Sacramento on Sept. 9, will join the USA team on Sept. 12 in Brazil. Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets) did not compete due to back spasms and is listed as day to day.
Donovan is being assisted at the 2006 FIBA World Championship by 2006 WNBA Coach of the Year Mike Thibault of the Connecticut Sun 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.
The United States is looking at the 2006 FIBA World Championship, hosted by Brazil Sept. 12-23, to continue building upon the success it's experienced over the last decade in the international arena. Since the 1996 Olympic Games the USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team has posted five consecutive gold medals at the Olympics and FIBA World Championships. Not only have the American women finished on the top of the podium, they have posted an unblemished 42-0 record, an unparalleled streak over the past decade among U.S. women's traditional team sports. Additionally, the United States is No. 1 in the world in every age group after also claiming gold at the 2005 FIBA U19 World Championship and 2003 FIBA U21 World Championship.
All of the USA's World Championship games will be televised live on NBA TV, with FSN (Fox Sports Network) re-airing the games each night at midnight (EDT). The USA tips-off preliminary round play against China on Sept. 12 at 6:45 p.m. (all times EDT), followed by the USA versus Nigeria contest on Sept. 13 at 6:45 p.m. The USA concludes preliminary round action against Russia on Sept. 14 at 4:30 p.m.
The top three finishing teams from each preliminary round group will advance to the second round, where the top three teams in Group C, the USA's preliminary pool, will compete Sept. 16-18 against the top three teams in Group D (times TBD). The advancing teams from Group A and Group B will play against each other in the second round.
Quarterfinals are scheduled for Sept. 20, with the semifinals played Sept. 21. On Sept. 22, the bronze medal will be contested at 10:00 a.m., with the gold medal game following at 1:00 p.m.
The Donovan-led U.S. squad will seek to defend its World Championship title at the 15th FIBA World Championship. Behind the play of 2002 FIBA World Championship MVP Leslie, as well as Bird, Catchings, Milton-Jones, Smith and Swoopes, the United States captured the 02 gold medal, successfully defending it's 1998 World Championship crown.
The U.S. owns a record seven gold medals, one silver and one bronze at the World Championship, while compiling an 80-20 (.800 winning percentage) record, including a 19-0 winning streak that dates back to the 1994 bronze medal game.