U.S. Depth on Display in Scrimmage Against Canada
The 2014 FIBA World Championship, slated to begin on September 27 in Turkey, may not turn out to be the fiercest women’s basketball competition of the year. Instead, there is arguably more intensity and depth on display at the Americans’ three-week national team training camp, which continued on Sunday with a scrimmage against Canada, than will exist at the World Championship itself -- the prize at stake for all the pre-Turkey toil and travel.
The dazzling depth at the Americans’ disposal is a good problem for U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma and the selection committee to have. There are 24 first-rate American players, including seven who played in the recently-wrapped WNBA Finals and 17 who participated in Sunday’s scrimmage, vying to make the 12-woman U.S. team, which will arrive in Istanbul as the prohibitive gold-medal favorite.
All 17 Americans saw minutes against Canada’s national team during the scrimmage, held at midday in Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena, host of the 2013 NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Regional Finals and a familiar venue for the six former or current Connecticut Huskies who played for the U.S. on Sunday. The scrimmage showcased the usual brilliance of Maya Moore, the day’s leading scorer with 13 points, two blocks and two steals (and a mortal lock to make the USA World Championship team), but did little to clarify the rest of the U.S. team’s murky roster situation.
“I don’t think any of the post players have come out and clearly just blown everybody away,” Auriemma said afterwards. “They’ve all had their moments where they’ve been really good, and they’ve all had their moments where they struggled. That’s why it’s going to be difficult [to pare down the roster], and the same with the guards.”
Auriemma would not tip his hand about whether Breanna Stewart, the 6-4 forward/center who earned National Player of the Year honors last spring as a sophomore for Connecticut’s NCAA championship team, was likely to make the upcoming trip to Paris for the tournament the U.S. is playing against France, Australia and China as part of its World Championship preparation, although later that evening the committee decided to move Stewart through to the next round.
“Stewie’s doing great, she does what she does,” he said of the 20-year-old Stewart, who scored 4 points against Canada on 2-of-3 shooting but was chided with a “Really?” from her head coach when she launched an off-target 3 early in a USA possession. “You’re not gonna play 30 minutes, but you have to be impactful while you’re out there, and so far she’s done that. But I don’t know that she has stood out more than anybody else.”
The composition of the American team is partially contingent upon the health of Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles, three women who played in the recent WNBA Finals but who are struggling with eye, back and foot problems, respectively.
“We’re leaving Tuesday [for Paris], and there’s no guarantee that any of them are going to be available, or they could all be available,” Auriemma said. “We just don’t know.”
But the 2012 Olympic gold medal-winning coach did not equivocate when it came to praising the Americans’ performance on defense Sunday, when the U.S. outscored Canada by an unofficial tally of 75-52.
“We haven’t had a chance to spend a lot of time on our defensive stuff, and I thought we did a really good job today,” he said of the U.S., which outscored Canada in three of the four 10-minute quarters and forced four shot-clock violations. “Canada is not an easy team to play against because of all the movement and all the screens and all the cutting that they do, and I thought defensively that we were pretty good, given that we haven’t been together a long time.”
Moore said after Sunday’s scrimmage that she prefers international play to intra-squad games—“Now that we’re playing against other countries, instead of beating up on each other, it’s a little bit easier”—but acknowledged the inevitable difficulty of saying goodbye to some teammates before the team heads to Europe.
“No one in this group is somebody that you just don’t like as a person,” said the 2014 WNBA MVP. “Everybody here is humble and cool and understands what USA Basketball is about. It’s definitely sad to know that everybody can’t go, but it’s a part of why the United States is so dominant. It’s a really cool state that we’re in, that we have so many players that could be on the team.”