USA Women Win Final Exhibition 104-89 Over Australia
The USA Basketball National Team did not win a medal of any kind Sunday. It simply was the final exhibition game during its preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Still, as three-time Olympic gold medalist Diana Taurasi looked across the court during the playing of the national anthem, her competitive juices began to churn. She saw Australian stars Liz Cambage, Leilani Mitchell and Penny Taylor lined up on the other side.
It was no longer just an exhibition game. It was a match-up of the top two teams in world. And Taurasi and the U.S. shined as five players reached double figures in scoring in a 104-89 victory before 13,520 at Madison Square Garden.
“These are some of the best players in the world,” said Taurasi, who totaled 20 points, three rebounds and three assists. “There’s some competitiveness there that both countries feel, and it’s good because it makes you play better. I think we learned a lot about ourselves. And this team is still growing. We’ll take some confidence out of this. We’ll take some good things and some bad things.”
The U.S. defeated Australia, Canada and France by an average of 25.7 points during its East Coast tour. It also opened its exhibition schedule with an 88-84 win over the USA Team Select Team on July 25 in Los Angeles.
The U.S. will practice in Houston Tuesday before heading to Rio later that day. It is chasing a sixth-straight gold medal.
“I believe the team is capable of winning a gold medal,” U.S center Tina Charles said. “I feel we’re capable of winning the sixth with the depth that we have on this team, the talent that we have on this team, the coaching staff alone, just them forcing us to be in tune with the process of winning for us and what that’s going to take to get that gold medal. That’s what I believe we can do.”
Former U.S. Olympians Teresa Edwards, Lisa Leslie, Gail Marquis, Juliene Simpson and Dawn Staley, who currently is a USA assistant coach, were honored during a halftime ceremony Sunday. The current team rushed to join them at midcourt following the ceremony.
Elena Delle Donne added 19 points, five rebounds and two blocks for the U.S. Brittney Griner finished with 15 points, four rebounds and two assists. Maya Moore had 13 points, six rebounds, a game-high six assists and two steals.
Angel McCoughtry contributed 12 points, five rebounds and two assists.
The U.S., which had 13 fastbreak points, committed just five turnovers over the final 35:37.
“Obviously, we played a great team,” U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. “They’re as good as everybody thinks they are, and they’ve got some terrific players and they are really, really hard to play against. It was a real test for us that we really needed at this particular time. You try to tell everybody that winning a gold medal is not easy. You can see why, but I thought our guys were great.
“Throughout the game I thought we were great. I think we responded to everything. We just did a lot of good things. And there’s things we’ve got to get better at, no question. And we’ve got to get way better defensively in a couple areas, and we will. But we’ve got lot of pieces to work with, and I was just really, really happy with this group (Sunday).”
The U.S. has faced Australia in the gold medal game of the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. The likelihood is strong that the teams will meet again in a couple of weeks.
Australia used an 8-0 run to open a 17-11 lead with 5:25 left in the first quarter. The U.S. was 4-of-10 shooting from the field and had three turnovers.
But keyed by Delle Donne and McCoughtry, the U.S. found its rhythm. Delle Donne scored six-straight points and had 15 points (5-of-5 FGs) in a span of 6:12. The explosion was part of 30-8 run. McCoughtry scored all of her 12 points (4-of-5 FGs) in 4:53 during the run.
“I think the biggest thing about our team is our depth,” Delle Donne said. “So, we can wear teams out with the depth that we have. So, when we come in we really have to come in and pedal to the metal, play the best we can and then give people a rest and let them come in and do the same.”
The U.S. led 54-48 at halftime. Taurasi, who was 1-of-4 shooting in the first half, came out aggressively to open the third quarter. She made three 3-pointers and scored 15 points in the first 5:15.
Taurasi’s third 3 of the quarter staked the U.S. to a 77-58 lead. The margin never dipped below 12 the rest of the way.
“Maybe because I’ve been around her a long time – four years in college and then through these last eight years with the Olympic Team – I’ve always been of the opinion that as long as we have Diana Taurasi on the court playing with our team that we have a chance to win every single game that we play,” Auriemma said. “The problem is Diana is sometimes so unselfish and such a great teammate that she doesn’t impose herself on the game. She’ll pass up open shots because she’s thinks Tina’s open. She’ll pass up an open shot because she wants go get somebody to touch the ball, get them into the flow and some confidence. So she kind of sets the tone for our team. When Diana’s playing a real high level, it’s really fun to watch.”
Cambage had 22 points and eight rebounds to lead Australia. Mitchell added 18 points, three assists and two steals, while Taylor had nine points and a game-high eight rebounds.
Behind 13 points and four assists from Miah-Marie Langlois, Canada defeated France 71-63 in the opening game of the doubleheader.
“It’s a fun group,” Moore said. “I think one of the things coach celebrated about what we we’re doing is how we let ourselves be coached by each other. And when you have a team like that you really can’t be stopped because no one’s going to take it personal, no one’s going to shut down because of their feelings being hurt. We’re just going to take it and move on to the next play. So that’s one of the things that I appreciate about this team. It makes it fun and everybody can share in everybody else’s success.”