Preview: 2018 USA Women's National Team vs. China
Forty-three points separated the sides the last time they met on August 14, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That was the final preliminary round game for the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team against China.
But, the times have changed. When the USA Women’s National Team and China square off at Seattle’s KeyArena at 10 p.m. EDT on Thursday, the faces on the floor will look different.
Only six of the USA’s players from the 2016 team are on the squad for tonight's exhibition clash, and two of those players, Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, who both play for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, will be running on their home court.
“Our fans are going to love it, and I think we are going to have some great support once we get on the court,” said Stewart. “Just the fact that we get to travel all over the place with USA Basketball, to be here and be home, it’s awesome.”
Another name familiar to the local fans especially is Jewell Loyd, who will be suiting up for the USA for the first time since appearing on the USA Women’s National Select Team that helped prepare the U.S. Olympic Team in 2016.
“To be able to play in Seattle, we’re revving everyone up for our season, so it’s cool to see that, and then it makes it even better to do it with ‘USA’ across your chest,” she said.
The exhibition is the first test in a statement year for the USA Women’s National Team, which will turn into a World Cup Team come September, although the 13 players chosen to represent the USA in Thursday’s contest have not solidified that status. But, the game is a culminating prize after three mini training camps dating back to September 2017.
“I think it is going to be really nice to compete against and beat up another team that’s not ourselves,” joked Elizabeth Williams (Atlanta Dream). “I think everybody is kind of ready for that. It’s fun to see how we fare against another team. We’ve been playing really hard against each other, and learning a lot, but it will be a good test to play against a tough Chinese team.”
USA head coach Dawn Staley (University of South Carolina), who will coach her first USA game with the permanent “head coach” title attached to her name, is more than ready to get the ball rolling.
“For a player who is very competitive, practice, practice, practice can seem very boring,” she began. “This is different because we do have this exhibition at the end of the camp, and I think everyone’s awareness has been raised a little bit because we do always want to win every game that we play. That will be our approach against China. We are approaching it to win the game. Obviously, we want to play a lot of people, but we need to be productive with the five that will be on the floor at any given time.”
USA assistant coach Jennifer Rizzotti (George Washington University) was handed the pleasant task of scouting the Chinese National Team.
“I would say that it's been a little bit challenging because the film that we have and the roster that we have from the Olympics is very different from the team that we brought here,” said Rizzotti. “So, there's only four players on their roster of 15 that we're really familiar with. They are their better players, so our goal will be to do a good job on the players we're familiar with and then use this as preparation for when we see them in the fall.
“Their guards are really in attack mode, first in transition they do a great job of advancing the ball in the pass. And then they really look for their bigs inside in transition. They get two feet in the lane, they seal well, they use their body. So, they have the ability to be versatile at each position. Defensively I think is where they're a little bit more experienced or seasoned.”
Stewart, who has played the past two seasons for Shanghai Baoshan Dahua, is fully aware of the talent on the Chinese team and the camaraderie they bring to the floor as a team.
“It’s just the way they play together,” said Stewart. “They have a lot of time to practice together – more than us – and they just know how what one another likes and doesn’t like to do, so they put each other in spots to do the best they can.”
The USA’s game versus China will be available for streaming at usab.com/live, as well as on the USA Basketball Facebook page and USA Basketball YouTube channel.