Tournament Games Provide Deeper Look At Women's U23 Athletes
Day three at the USA Women’s U23 National Team training camp, which did not see things slow down one bit, began with two, intense intrasquad tournament games in the morning session.
- The games at training camp are played according to FIBA rules, with the exception of eight-minutes quarters instead of the usual 10 minutes per quarter. International rules also differ from U.S. rules in several ways, notably that they include a 24-second shot clock, an eight-second back court and only coaches can call time outs by signaling the table.
“Our intentions are to win gold medals, so to put the players in a position to value winning and not just scrimmaging to just make the team puts an emphasis on the fact you need to be a complete team player that will do whatever it takes,” said Jennifer Rizzotti, George Washington University and Chair of the USA Basketball Women’s Junior National Team Selection Committee, which is responsible for selecting the coaches and players of the team.
“Obviously, everybody that is here is really good at basketball, so it’s not just about talent, it’s about how you adapt – to a new coach, to new teammates, to a new offense. Are you willing to be flexible? Because, when you play on a USA Basketball team, you have to be willing to give up your individual self to adapt to the situation. So, we evaluate everything, not just scoring and rebounding, but the intangibles and what they bring to the table in that regard.”
- Team 1 versus Team 3: Team 3 (1-1), coached by Cori Close (UCLA), jumped out to an early 16-6 advantage over Team 1 (0-2), which is coached by Jamelle Elliott (Cincinnati), in the first quarter. By halftime, Team 3 had built a 43-32 lead and didn’t let up after the break. Elliott’s squad came as close as 54-50 in the third quarter, but the sides traded baskets over the final 10 minutes, and Team 3 earned its first victory of the tournament, 77-71.
A collective scoring effort included four players in double figures for Team 3, led by Kelsey Mitchell (Ohio State/Cincinnati, Ohio) and A’ja Wilson (South Carolina/Hopkins, S.C.) with 13 points apiece. In addition, four players tallied double-digit scoring for Team 1, with Destiny Slocum (Oregon State/Meridian, Idaho) leading the way with 15 points, including three 3-pointers.
“It’s always kind of tough when you play first, and we were a little slow to start,” said Slocum, who was 6-of-8 from the field in the loss. “We picked it up, though, in the second, third and fourth, and I think our communication really got better. We are still growing and getting better. We stuck in the game even when we fell behind. We kept coming back. I think that was important.”
- Mitchell, who returns to USA Basketball and Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the first time since she competed at the 2011 USA U16 National Team Trials, is enjoying her reintroduction and the tournament format: “The games are competitive, and they are fun. But, the thing I enjoy the most is just playing against players of this caliber for four or five days. Who wouldn’t want to do that, if you want to compete at a high level? That’s the best part about this. You can’t ask for anything better.”
- Team 2 versus Team 4: The second game of the morning was a one-sided affair for the final 20 minutes and change, as Team 2 (2-0), led by Michelle Clark-Heard (Western Kentucky), dominated play beyond the first quarter. Team 4 (1-1), coached by Courtney Banghart (Princeton), trailed heading into the half, 39-28, and closed the gap to 51-42, midway through the third, but Clark-Heard’s group proved to be too much down the stretch, outscoring the opposition 25-15 in the fourth quarter to run away with a 80-57 victory.
Team 2 was highlighted by three players in double figures with Azura Stevens (Connecticut/Raleigh, NC) scoring a game-high 19 points to go with six rebounds, while Ariel Atkins (Texas/Duncanville, Texas) kept her hot streak going with 17 points. Napheesa Collier (Connecticut/O’Fallon, Mo.) tallied 13 points and eight rebounds for Team 4 in the loss.
“I think our defense and our energy to start off today was amazing,” said Jordin Canada (UCLA/Los Angeles, Calif.) after her 15-point outing in the win. “We got after it today and that’s what gave us the big lead. And just being able to push the pace but then slow down when we needed to, and reading off each other – I think our guards did well of feeding each other and then our post players were doing an excellent job of screening and knocking down open shots and rebounding. Those are the things I’ve seen that have helped us dominate last night & this morning.”
- “Like Coach Auriemma said, this is different from the usual drills to playing,” said Kristen Simon (USC/Gardena, Calif.), who posted seven points and four rebounds for Team 4. “It’s a totally different vibe. You get to see who can click, who gets things faster. That’s what it’s all about. Whoever makes this team is going to leave right after camp. You have to get the plays, the defensive schemes, all of that. This tests our IQ more than our physical self in some ways, and I like that a lot.”
- Wednesday’s sessions continue with tournament games in the evening with Team 1 playing Team 4 at 5 p.m. and Team 2 versus Team 3 at 6:30 p.m.