Additional Quotes: U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team 121, Senegal 56 (8/7/16)
USA head coach Geno Auriemma
On the USA’s Olympic opener:
You wait so long to play, and you’re not quite sure what you’re going get. The kids are really, really anxious, really excited to play. So, that first group really got us going. We just played so quickly, and the ball moved so quickly for us. And when Diana starts the game off like that, that just makes us really, really tough to play against.
On Senegal and the obstacles they’ve overcome to be here:
I talked to their coach and saw some of their games leading up to this, and I congratulated him on getting here. And the way they play, they play so hard. They compete really, really hard. Obviously they’re undermanned, talent-wise when it comes to playing against the U.S. But, you got to admire their effort. You’ve got to admire how tough they are and how competitive they are.
Were there any players who impressed you?
Oumoul Thiam (4) and Fatou Dieng (7), I thought really looked like they could help a lot of teams. They made shots, and they made plays, I got a kick out of watching them play.
On the Olympic debuts of Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart:
We looked around, and we said that the three of them played as if they were Olympic veterans. It didn’t look at all like there was any sign of nervousness, or tentativeness or deferring to the other players. So, I was thoroughly impressed and really, really happy with the way it played out for them. It was maybe the perfect way for this to start.
On the USA’s record-setting night:
We talked in the locker room about how we want to play offensively, and how we want to attack and how we want to be difficult to play against. That’s the area I think that we can take advantage of, the fact that we have a lot of players who can score. When we move the ball like that, when the ball doesn’t get stuck, the defense has got to guard it at all five spots on the floor, that’s just a tough task for anybody really. Especially in the first half, we shot the lights out. We shot great. I told them at halftime that I was really disappointed with our offensive rebounding and we better pick that up. Because I was really upset, because we missed three or four 2-point shots the whole first half (laughs). It was crazy. It was really fun to watch.
You never know how it’s going to go, exactly. Obviously, we’re the heavy favorite. But at this point, even now, some of these games, we feel like no matter who the opponent is, we’re just working on ourselves. Because even though the games have started, we’re here and we’re ready to go, it’s almost like a practice for us, because we need to still work on our offense, we need to still work on our defense, so with this game we were just really focused on ourselves, and were very happy with the outcome.
On tomorrow’s game against Spain:
Spain’s a really good team. We know their players very well, playing with and against them overseas. We’ve played them before in numerous competitions, and they’re tough. They’re very talented, and more than anything, they’re mentally tough. They’re going to come out, and they’re going to compete. For us, with today’s game, we have to get better, which I think we did. And we know that within 24 hours we’re going to be back out there going against a much better team.
Was it exciting to break the records you did tonight?
Records, at the end of the day, are fun to look back on and to think of all the great plays we made. But, we’re here for one reason, and that’s to win a gold medal. We just want out to come out and play our game. Lucky for us, we have a lot of scorers. Every single player on the floor, no matter who’s in the game can put up a lot of big numbers. Diana got us going in the beginning, and we just fed off that.
Are these blowouts good for the game overall?
There is something to be said about a team that can come together in two weeks and play the way we’re playing right now. More than anything, regardless of the score, it’s beautiful basketball. We’re sharing the ball. I don’t even know how many points we scored, a hundred-and-whatever. You’re going to look at that number, then look at the assist number. We share the ball, we move the ball, we make the right plays at the right time, and that to me is a great brand of basketball. And if we can elevate the play, if people strive to play that way and we can elevate the play of the entire world, then what’s better than that for basketball? Nothing.
How has Elena fit into this team?
Elena has done a great job so far. The national team is interesting because we’re thrown together in a short period of time, trying to figure things out. A lot of people are going to have different roles but the best part about it is, ever since I’ve been on this team, no matter who it was, whether it was Lisa Leslie or Sheryl Swoopes, two of the best players of all time, or if you’re Stewie this year and Elena this year, and everyone in between, you’re here for one reason, and that’s to win a gold medal. We don’t care what your role is. We don’t care how many shots you take. And that type of attitude is contagious. Everybody feels that way. Nobody cares who is getting the points, and Elena has fit right in. And every time she has gotten into the game, she has been a huge boost for us, because she can score the ball so well.
How does the team get along off the court?
We know each other so well at this point. If we didn’t play with you, we played against you. Through the year, we’ve gotten to know all these people, so off the court is never a problem.
Does your fourth Olympics feel different than the first, or second or third?
Not really. I think it’s the same every time. You get the anxiety. I know sitting on the ship, I was so glad we had the early game, because I can’t image sitting all day waiting for this game to happen. So, I was excited about this game being early. When I got here, I felt like my heart was beating fast, butterflies in my stomach, just wanting to do well and realizing this is going be my last first time I get to play for my country, but it is still so exciting.
Talk about the game. You expected this to be somewhat easy, and everything went smooth for you guys.
For us, we just have to continue playing the way we are playing, and today was a great test, just being the first game, everyone was super excited. I’m really excited. It’s a lot of fun to sit on the bench and watch and then get in there. I think one through twelve, all of us, whether you’re on the court or on the bench, you see us scream and hollering, and it’s just a lot of fun to be part of.
I assume you anticipate Spain being a much tougher battle?
Every game, you really can’t take a night off. Against Senegal, we came out today, and we knew right off the bat we just need to jump on them, and we’ve got to play our game. Every single game, we just got to continue to get better. We can’t focus on the next game, so now that that game one is over, now we’ll get ready for Spain. We know it’s going to be a tough a game for us, but we’ll be ready, we’ll be prepared. We’ll get home tonight, watch a little film, wake up in the morning and kind of do it all again.
Geno said managing minutes is important so everyone stays fresh. How much does your depth help? From top to bottom anybody on this team is pretty much the best in the tournament?
That’s the fun part of it. You know, it is. It’s the fun part about it. I know I look to my left, I look to my right and I realize that no matter who is on the court – we have a roster that is full of MVPs, all-stars, Olympians, champions, you know all that, so no matter who’s on the court, Geno knows to tell us what we need to do, and we’re going to get it done.
Elena Delle Donne
How was your first Olympic game?
It was a blast. It was a really great team win, so many people in double-digits. I felt like we were able to work on some things and get out on transition, get it into our bigs and just play a really well rounded game
How much fun is it to have so many options out there; the passing if phenomenal.
It’s the greatest feeling in the world, where if you’re not open you look to right and one of the best players in the world is next to you, you look to your left and it’s the same thing, so, so many options and really fun to play with.
You’re the reigning WNBA MVP and you’re coming off the bench; does that speak to how deep the team is and how unselfish everyone is?
Oh gosh, yeah. We’re so deep and that’s one of our many strengths, and I kind of like it (coming in off the bench). I like being able to watch the game a little bit, kind of watch from the bench, let it come to me and get out there and provide the spark.
You have talented guys of course, but are the young guys watching a little more?
For sure, because I don’t play overseas either, and the European game is a little different for me, and I’m just trying to learn as quickly as possible and play the best basketball I can to help the team win.
How has it been trying to fit in with this team on and off the court.
It’s been so easy; the chemistry is amazing. The older players are awesome at getting us ready and just showing us what kind of mindset we have to have every day. So, so far it’s been really simple and a lot of fun.
Did you anticipate how easy this game would be?
No, we go into every game anticipating a battle, and regardless if it a battle or if it’s not, we’re going to play like it is. We always want to play to our standard, and I think that’s what we did tonight. We got a lot of good things done. We were able to work on our zone; we were able to do a lot of different things.
Do you anticipate a tougher game against Spain?
Yeah, I remember playing them at worlds (2014 FIBA World Championship), it was a tough game, and it’s good. We need these games to get us prepared. I know tomorrow is going to be a little bit different, so we just plan to come out and do what we did today, play with the same intensity, move the ball, play lockdown D (defense) like we did.
Sue Bird said one of the great things about the way you guys have come together is that you are in mid-season form. Does that help you stay fresh?
Yeah definitely. Sue said it best, and I’m going to piggyback off what she said.
How nervous were you for your first Olympic game?
It was amazing. Once I got about five minutes into the game, basketball just kind of takes over. I don’t want to stay it turns into just another game, but it turns into just basketball. You’re out there playing, you know what to do.
How much did it help you started tonight and get it going pretty early? You had 10 points in the first half, did that help you sort of get over the jitters a little bit.
Yeah definitely, but also not even scoring, because I’ve learned to not anticipate anything. So (for) me just getting rebounds and kicking it out, and we get a quick layup down the floor. Me screening for D (Diana Taurasi) when she got three in a row, one of those was off my screen, and that gets me going just as much.
Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx)
How do you stay fresh when you know you’ll be seeing tougher competition down the road?
We just want to do what we want to do. Whatever that looks like in the moment. We can always control our effort. We can always control our focus and our communication. So, today I felt we were really solid, and tomorrow we want to be even better.
Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm)
On topping the U.S. Olympic scoring record that was set in 1996:
I think it’s really cool to know that history went that far back, and we were able to break it today in our first game. And we hope to play even better in our next one. Obviously, we know we’re going for number six (gold medals), and a team of that caliber in ’96 started it all off, won the gold medal and now here we are in 2016 trying to keep that going.
On the fans cheering against the USA:
We definitely expect that. And to our credit, a lot of our families aren’t here yet, so give us a couple games. When they get down here, maybe it’ll be a little bit louder.
On the game:
This is my first Olympics, so nothing about it is old. It’s all new. We wanted to come out and set the tone for the tournament, and then individually help make an impact.
A lot people will see the score but they don’t see how crisp you guys are, you forced 27 turnovers, how much does coach emphasize that in practice.
That’s huge. We want to take advantage of our length and our quickness; whenever we can get out and run, that’s when we are at our best, and that’s when we seem to have the most fun and we did that tonight.
How does it feel to be the youngest players, you’re 21 years old, going out there; how does it feel?
It feels good, it feels really good. Obviously, to be here and be the youngest one here, I’m just trying to be a sponge in learning from the vets, but also when it’s my turn go out and play.
Was there a nervousness with this being your first Olympics?
There was and there wasn’t – maybe excitement. Coming off the bench gave me a chance to get the nerves out while the rest of the team was getting going, and then going in, I really didn’t think about it as much.
Diane Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)
On the start the team got off to?
That was probably our biggest point going into the game was getting off to a good start. We know how important momentum is in these tournaments, where if you get off to a good start, that kind of carries into the first game and into the next game, which is tomorrow. That was crucial, and I thought we did a good job of that.
Does it make it more sweet that you broke these records tonight by playing some good basketball?
I think it does. Sometimes you worry so much about your opponent, and tonight was Senegal was good. They played hard. They were hitting 3’s. We just had to focus on ourselves. This team is so talented. Our strength is every single person on this team can do a lot, and today it showed in different stretches. Different people did a lot. Everyone feels good about that.
Does it fire you up as a player when you get a crowd reaction like you did today?
Believe it or not, we always take the underdog mentality. When we leave that locker room, we feel like the underdogs. We really do. We feel like everyone’s against us, and those 12 players, five coaches and our fans, that’s what we go into the game with and try to protect that. I like it. I like the boos.
How has Elena fit into the team so far?
She’s been amazing. In this short time that we’ve been together, every single day, she feels more and more confident and comfortable. You know, being on this Olympic team isn’t easy. I can go back 12 years when I was her, and it’s not easy. You have to find your spots. You have to find a way to gel in with everyone. I think her, Stewie and BG for being first timers, they are just incredible basketball players. I’m kind of happy I get to share the court with them one last time.
What’s it like playing a team like Senegal?
They were spirited. They played hard. They didn’t back down. They made shots. We came into the game respecting them like any other team. If you’re at the Olympics, you’re a good team. Hopefully they continue that not only for this tournament, but in the history of their basketball. They have some tough players on their team.
Does a game like this help the rookies?
I think that’s really key for them. We’re going need them down the stretch, because all three are so versatile. Obviously, BG inside and E and Stewie on the perimeter, they’re just nightmares with their height and their shooting ability. Their moment will come in this tournament, and today was good for them to get their confidence and to get themselves going.
On the impact of Griner?
BG is just so different than anyone in the world. When she’s on the court, not only the other team have to give her special attention, but us as a team have to give her special attention. You saw today that I don’t think they had one layup when she was on the court. No one wants to go in there when she’s on the court. You can feel that presence when you’re on defense.
Is your dominance bad for basketball?
If you like basketball, I think you enjoy watching good basketball. And if you don’t like watching basketball, I don’t know, go watch rowing or whatever you like. I don’t know what’s good and bad anymore for the game, but if you go out there and play the right way and play as a team, no matter the result, I don’t know how that can be bad for a sport.
Thoughts on tomorrow’s opponent, Spain?
Spain is a powerhouse. I’ve played with most of them. When you talk about top class talent, they have it. So, we know it’s going to be a tough game.