Additional Quotes: USA 71, Nigeria 40
USA head coach Dawn Staley (University of South Carolina)
It was a hard-fought game. I thought Nigeria came out and pressured us, and it bothered us in the first twenty minutes of the game. And then we made some adjustment to the style of play, and we played more like we’re capable of playing. The game slowed down a little bit. We stopped fouling as much and just started making plays. So, our hats go off to Nigeria for playing a great game, but I was proud of our team today for coming out and making adjustments that they need to make and getting hold of the game early in the third quarter.
On having the three Seattle Storm players on the court at the same time during the USA’s third-quarter push:
I don’t know if it was conscious, but when they were out there I did recognize that we had three of the WNBA’s champions on the floor. And when you put a team together like this, the more chemistry you can add on the floor, whether that’s by them playing together on their respective WNBA teams, it always helps. Surely it didn’t help that Diana (Taurasi) found herself in foul trouble. Jewell (Loyd) is her substitute, and we didn’t second guess about who needed to go in the game. We needed Jewell to go into the game, especially with what she’s been doing for us on both sides of the ball. Stewie’s (Breanna Stewart) been tremendous for us. So, Stewie’s someone we need on the floor a lot. We had to be conscious of getting her in and out of basketball games. I think she played the longest stretch of any player throughout the game, but that was out of necessity.
On the strength of the African teams at this World Cup:
We’ve been fortunate, or unfortunate, to play to both teams, and they played us extremely well. The African teams have certainly have had history on their side, meaning that they haven’t broken through by getting wins. They’re well coached. They’re very disciplined in their style of play, and they don’t bend for anybody. When you go up against teams like us and play your style of play, you believe in it, and you start getting us to make adjustments to how they’re playing, you will win a lot more basketball games than not. They have broken some history, and surely in international play to come, they won’t be looked over. They weren’t looked over by us by any means. We know what they’re bringing to the table, and we certainly have to prep for them.
On the impact of Breanna Stewart on this team:
I’ve been really fortunate in being a part of her progress in the USA Basketball National Team. I watched her four years ago, and she was the young gun. She didn’t play very much. But, you take someone like Stewie, she’s looking. Although she’s not playing, she’s learning. She has a great idea of what the big picture looks like. She knew four years ago to four years later, that she would play an integral role in our success. She knew two years ago in Rio that she would play an integral role in our success. And, you have to prep for that. You can’t just think you can come in and have the type of impact that she’s having. You have to mentally, and physically and spiritually prepare for that, and she didn’t take that time lightly. I know I’m speaking for her, but that’s my view of watching Stewie grow and be someone that it’s hard to keep off the floor.
Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)
On the team’s second-half adjustment:
Nigeria’s a really tough team. They play hard for forty minutes, and at the start of the game we were just a little out of sorts, trying to deal with their pressure, trying to get going. So, even though we didn’t get out to the best start, the good news is that we responded, individually, collectively. So, once the third quarter rolled around, we got into a little bit of a comfort zone, and the rest is history.
But, listen, every team in this tournament is really good. And you can tell, the level of play in all of these countries is continuing to get better. Our reputation is kind of doing it to us right now – everyone expects us to win by forty in the first five minutes. Well, it’s a new day. That’s not necessarily how it’s going to be. We take wins anyway we can get them, and that’s what today was.
Will we expect the same type of scenario for the next games?
I can’t tell you what any game is going to be like. For us, as has been the story of pretty much every tournament I’ve ever played in – as we go, we continue to get better. We continue to get more comfortable. There’s four of us who literally have not even been here, who have had two practices, a couple games, and we’re just trying to make it work. At times, what you’re seeing out there is just people being a little uncertain, because we’re still trying to get to know each other, and that’s all that is. It continues to get better. I can’t tell you what tomorrow’s going to be like. I’m just happy we won today, and we move forward.
Was there any concern for the USA at halftime?
You want to give them credit, because they pressured us, and they were forcing us to do the hard things. At times, getting open was difficult. And so, we just had to have a talk and be like, ‘Guys, listen, we have to help each other. We can’t leave anybody on an island out there. We have to help each other.’ And once we got that out in the open, I think we did a better job in the second half. It is a long game. You can’t panic in the first half.
Tina Charles (Connecticut Sun)
What was the difference for the USA from the first half to the second half?
Nigeria came out and played really aggressive. We just had to make sure that we were tough to the ball. They forced us to turn it over. But having great leaders, like Sue Bird, she really led the way. Her being vocal just gave us all confidence that everything was going to be okay. And then coming out in the second half, we were able to extend the lead.
What did Sue Bird say to the team at halftime?
Just to be tough with the ball. Just knowing, these type of tournaments, this is every country’s one shot. We know we are going to get everyone’s best effort, but we can’t be rattled. When other players are playing tougher defense, we can’t play fast. We just have to have composure and act like we have been here before. And, Sue (Bird) definitely led the way for us to feel comfortable out there.
Was the USA worried by its poor shooting in the first quarter:
That is one of the best things about this team. We can exhaust ourselves on the offensive and defensive end, knowing that we have another great player coming in. So, we knew, for somebody, that the shots were going to start falling. That really happened with Stewie (Breanna Stewart), and A’ja (Wilson) came in and gave us great minutes. So, it was really good.
Elena Delle Donne (Washington Mystics)
What does the USA need to do to come out strong in the semifinal?
Every game is different. Every game is probably going to be even tougher, and each team plays in such unique ways that it is almost like we have to kind of feel them out and figure it out as we go. So, just be able to make adjustments on the move and stay confident in one another.
On the second-half adjustments:
Nigeria is a super tough team. Defensively, they like to cause chaos. So, I feel like we were playing a little bit too fast on the offensive end. We played really great defense that enabled us to stay in it. And then offensively, we just kind of need to see it and adjust, calm down a little bit and just find the open cutter.
Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks)
On the game:
We expected nothing less. They are a very talented team, and they wouldn’t be in the quarterfinals without their very best, so the first half was really challenging.
What was the instruction from the coach at halftime?
To not play frantically, because I think they really thrive on their aggressiveness, especially on their defensive end. They get a lot of deflections, a lot of steals, and they rebound very well. So, she wanted us to kind of take our time, run the offense thoroughly and not overthink our offensive possessions.
On the USA’s leadership and experience:
It’s helpful. The game is the game, but it’s different internationally. And I think it is an eye-opener for a lot of youngsters, because they are so used to playing in college and then the WNBA, and then you realize, ‘Hey, this caliber of play is everywhere.’ Every player and different countries have different styles of play. So, it’s nice to be able to play against different types of competition.
On Tina Charles:
We have a lot of MVPs on this team, and she did some MVP things today. She was able to kind of calm things down for us on the inside, especially with the fouls. I think we were fouling a lot in the beginning, and she got lot of deflections and blocks that led to some offensive possessions that were good for us.
Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm)
Going off of what coach said, it was a hard-fought game. Obviously, we were struggling offensively for the first half of the game, but our defense was so strong. But in the second half, eventually the ball was going to go in the basket and turn our way, and we’ll use that momentum for tomorrow’s game.
On her role from 2014 to now:
Especially for me, the World Cup, when I look back four years ago, like Dawn (Staley) said, I didn’t play much. I was new to the national team at that level and was just trying to absorb as much as I could because I knew that two years later we had the Olympics, four years later we had the World Cup, and I wanted to be able to make an impact. I wanted my game to continue to grow and help the United States win as many gold medals as possible.
On the USA’s first half:
The first half was tough. I think we had a lot of layups that just didn’t go in, and we weren’t too concerned about it. We were happy with our defense, and we knew offense was going to come.
What do you expect from your next opponent, France or Belgium?
A hard-fought game. Both teams are great competitors, and we’ll be ready for whoever the winner is.
On her 19 points:
I’m definitely feeling a lot more comfortable as the games go on, and I’m just trying to play my best for the United States.
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)
What was said at halftime?
This is what usually happens in these games, and there is a reason why both teams are in the quarterfinals. Nigeria is a good team. They play solid basketball that really challenges you. In the first half, we obviously did not do a good job of handling their pressure. I think we held them to twenty-something, but offensively we looked pretty bad. It really wasn’t anything special, kind of just being a little bit more patient, setting some screens to alleviate the pressure a little bit. So, it was nothing special.
They played well. They are a good team.
How did Nigeria’s first-half press sharpen up the USA?
We didn’t handle it very well. It’s something we got to get better at. I think we can do a better job of actually breaking it and actually getting some offense out of it, which we didn’t do a good job of that in the first half.
With some foul trouble for the USA, how important was the team’s depth?
On this team, it doesn’t matter who is in foul trouble. It’s next man up, really. That’s how we’ve always been. So, sometimes it is your turn to sit there and cheer.