Game Time For U.S. Pan American Women’s Basketball Team
After 13 days of training camp, the 2015 U.S. Pan American Games Women’s Basketball Team is one day from its tip-off against Brazil at 9 p.m. EDT on July 16 (ESPN3). It is a good thing then that USA head coach Lisa Bluder (Iowa) thinks her team is ready.
“An easier practice, but a very cerebral practice on Wednesday will be good for us, and then I think they are ready to go,” Bluder said. “I think they are ready to play, and I think you saw that in our scrimmage against Canada.”
The USA twice scrimmaged against the USA Women’s U19 World Championship Team and twice scrimmaged a local men’s team while training in Colorado Springs, and once arriving in Toronto, Canada, for the 2015 Pan American Games, has scrimmaged Argentina, Brazil and Canada.
“I think we’ve seen tremendous progress,” said Bluder. “Every game we have gotten a little bit better. Our competition against Canada was the best that we’ve seen, and I think that was really good for us leading into the competition.
“In playing Canada, the host country, it was as close to a game environment as we have seen. I think it was the first day we fully put our game faces on, and that was really nice to see. It was nice o see that we came out, we executed pretty well on offense.”
Bluder is leading 12 collegiate athletes that have had fewer than two weeks together to develop the team’s chemistry, however, she has seen that chemistry develop nonetheless.
“I think we are getting used to playing together. We are getting used to reading each other. Those are things that take time, so I’m glad that we are hitting our stride now.
“I think it is essentially a different team than when we started. I think everybody now is starting to understand what their role is on the team and what they can bring to the team, what their strengths are that they can add to the team. We’ve seen some great improvements out of some individuals from the first day of camp until today.”
There are, of course, areas in which Bluder would like to see the team continue to improve.
“Defensively, we still need to work on a few things, especially defensive box-outs. I think our quarter-court defense was really pretty good, but we have to finish out the play with some good box outs.”
The roster boasts of three-time NCAA champions at the University of Connecticut Moriah Jefferson (Glenn Heights, Texas) and Breanna Stewart (North Syracuse, N.Y.). Stewart also is a USA Basketball Women’s National Team member who won gold at the 2014 FIBA World Championship.
They are joined by NCAA Tournament Final Four players Alaina Coates (South Carolina/Irmo, S.C.), Tiffany Mitchell (South Carolina/Charlotte, N.C.) and Taya Reimer (Notre Dame/Fishers, Ind.), as well as seven other top NCAA student-athletes from throughout the country.
“Certainly the versatility of Bre is really fun to watch,” Bluder said. “Her ability to play inside and outside, but also her passing. I think she is enjoying the high-low game with Taya and Alaina as well. That’s been nice to see. Kelsey (Plum) has gotten more and more confident at the point guard position, and that has been fun to see. Tiffany certainly has played well for us and brings that confidence to the floor that we need.
“It’s been fun, because of the opportunity to coach these great athletes. Having the opportunity to coach kids that have been national champions, All-Americans and having 12 of them on the floor, that is a luxury. I don’t normally get to have that much talent on one team.”
And it is not just the players who are faced with the challenge of gelling as a team; the coaching staff is working together for the first time as well. Bluder is joined by USA assistant coaches and collegiate head coaches Michelle Clark-Heard (Western Kentucky) and Scott Rueck (Oregon State).
“Having a great staff with Michelle and with Scott has been wonderful, and hearing what they have to say about this team has been really eye opening for me, and I’ve really appreciated that.”
In the most recent Pan American Games in 2011, the USA finished 2-2 and in seventh place. This time around, the team is hoping for a different result.
“It’s time,” Bluder said of the team’s preparedness. “We’ve been training. We know what we are doing, and it’s time to put it into action.”
USA versus Brazil at 9 p.m. EDT on July 16 (live on ESPN3)
USA versus Dominican Republic at 9 p.m. EDT on July 17 (live on ESPN3)
USA versus Puerto Rico at 9 p.m. on July 18 (live on ESPN3)
Semifinals on July 19
Finals on July 20