Behind Five Double-Digit Scorers, USA National Team Battles Past Host Italy 79-66
Five U.S. players scored in double digits, including a game-high 19 points from Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream) as the 2015 USA Basketball Women’s National Team (2-0) broke open a tie midway through the game for a 79-66 victory over host Italy on Wednesday night in Rome.
In addition to McCoughtry, helping pave the way to victory were Candice Dupree (Phoenix Mercury), who scored 15 points and had six boards; Elena Delle Donne (Chicago Sky) and Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury) with 13 points apiece; and Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks), who posted a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Griner and McCoughtry were perfect at the charity stripe, with McCoughtry hitting all nine of her tries and Griner connecting on each of her seven attempts, to help the U.S. connect on a red-hot 94.7 percent (18-19 FTs) of its free throws for the night.
“It doesn’t matter who you play, when you’re playing another country’s national team, you know they’re going to be good and you know you’re going to have to work hard at it,” said USA National Team head coach Geno Auriemma. “There were stretches of the game where we really played well, and there were stretches of the game where we let them do a lot of things that hurt us. But, I think that’s why we’re here. We want to know a little more about our players. So, whenever you’re pushed a little bit like we were today, that’s a good thing.”
Opening its four-game European Tour on Oct. 4 with an 84-52 victory over Uni Girona in Girona, Spain, the USA squad will take on the Dike Naples professional team on Oct. 8 in Naples, Italy. The tour concludes with a game against 2015 EuroLeague champion USK Prague on Oct. 9 in Prague, Czech Republic.
“I think it was a good game for us,” said McCoughtry. “We needed a good game like this, a good test to see where we’re at. They tied the game up at halftime because of our lack of defense, but we picked it up in the second half.”
Italy struck first and kept pace with the USA through the opening minute of the game. Behind eight points from McCoughtry in a 10-0 run, the USA broke open a 6-6 tie and with 3:40 left in the first quarter held its largest lead of the half, 16-6. A pair of 3s from the hosts helped to bring the game closer and at the end of the first quarter, which saw McCaughtry score 12 points, the USA was up 21-14.
Italy never allowed the U.S. to gain a double-digit edge in the second quarter. While Dupree scored the first nine of the USA’s 16 points in the second quarter, Italy kept pace and after Dupree’s final bucket of the stanza, Italy trailed by eight, 30-22.
The USA’s defense began to sag and Italy went on an 11-2 scoring run to take the lead, 33-32, with 1:19 to play before halftime, and by the midway break the game was even at 37-all.
The Americans never trailed in the final 20 minutes of play as Griner drove to the hoop in the first 30 seconds of the second half and made an and-one to give the U.S. a 40-37 lead.
“I was a little frustrated at first,” said Griner. “In the beginning I missed some chippies. I wasn’t putting myself in the right position; I kind of had some jitters. I was able to get the jitters out in the first half and in the second half I was able to be productive for the team.”
Italy pulled to within two points five times in the third quarter. With the red, white and blue up 54-52 in the third quarter’s waning minutes, Dupree and Delle Donne hit the quarter’s final two buckets to bring the period to a 58-52 end.
The USA’s run expanded to 10-0 over the first two minutes of the fourth quarter as a Breanna Stewart (University of Connecticut) bucket put the U.S. up 64-52. Two more 3-pointers from Italy helped the hosts pull to seven points, 69-62, with 5:10 to play, but Dupree and Griner combined for 10-straight points to give the USA its largest lead of the night and put the game out of reach, 79-62.
“We went back to our transition game,” said Dupree on the adjustments made heading into the fourth quarter. “We were able to get stops, get the rebounds, just get out and run. That’s hard for other teams to defend. We were able to wear them down in the fourth quarter and get easy buckets.”
The Americans shot 50.8 percent (30-59 FGs) from the field, while holding Italy to 31.1 percent (23-74 FGs) of its field goal attempts. The U.S. outscored Italy 36-12 in the paint and 8-2 on the fast break, and a close 33-32 off the bench.
“We haven’t been together for very long,” said McCoughtry. “But, it’s good to see that we were able to work together to pull it out.”
Italy was led by 16 points from Chiara Consolini.
“That is kind of tough, because you are playing teams where you know nothing about their personnel; you know nothing about what they’re going to run, what their tendencies are,” said Auriemma about the challenges faced when playing opponents without being able to scout them first. “You don’t know anything. So, you are going to have to try to figure it out on the fly. You do need your players to pay attention, but you’re also trying to figure out with your own team, you think ‘Okay, who can do that? Who can see things quickly and adapt?’ The whole point of the trip is not to figure out physically who’s really good, but mentally who can handle this stuff. So, any time we’re in this type of situation I think it’s good. I think it’s really good.”
Auriemma is being assisted through the 2016 Olympic Games by DePaul University’s Doug Bruno, the Minnesota Lynx’ Cheryl Reeve and University of South Carolina’s Dawn Staley. Reeve is coaching the Minnesota Lynx in the 2015 WNBA Finals and therefore is not with the team in Europe. University of Hartford head coach Jennifer Rizzotti is serving as a court coach during the USA’s European Tour.
The USA squad is using this tour as preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games, which will be held Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
USA Basketball Women’s National Team
U.S. Olympic women’s basketball teams have earned a record seven gold medals, one silver medal and one bronze medal, and are 58-3 all-time in Olympic competition. The 2016 U.S. team will enter Rio riding a 41-game Olympic winning streak that dates back to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics bronze medal game.
Since the inception of the 1995-96 USA Basketball Women’s National Team program, the USA National Team, in addition to its record five-straight Olympic gold medals, has captured four FIBA World Championship gold medals, one FIBA World Championship bronze medal and one FIBA Americas Championship gold medal, while compiling a remarkable 86-1 record for a .989 winning percentage in those events. Further, USA National Teams in exhibition contests since 1995 boast of a 186-15 record (.925 winning percentage).