Additional Quotes: USA 81, Nigeria 72
U.S. Olympic Team head coach Dawn Staley (South Carolina)
We had to adjust to the style that Nigeria was playing. I anticipated them flying aaround all game and crowding our space for 94 feet. It took us probably a quarter-and-a-half to really adjust to it. Once we did, we found ourselves opening up the game. But those turnovers plagued us throughout the entire game. And sometimes you're going to have to win playing a different style of game, certainly we did that tonight. So hopefully we can correct some of the turnovers and the ill-advised passes, so they won't end up hurting us as we move forward in the Olympic Games.
I don’t know if this is news to you, but Sue Bird just said this would be her last Olympics. What is your reaction?
You never count Sue out. I know she said that, but she continues to play, and she continues to play well. If it is indeed her last Olympics, I surely would like to send her off into the sunset winning another gold medal for her. But it ends an incredible legacy here at the Games. She's really (been) the top point guard in the world for a very long time, and to see that, it's hard for us, her teammates her coaches, and it's extremely hard for the game of basketball, because she's played it unlike any other guard across the world, and to see that come to an end, you’re saddened by it. But at the same time, we got a chance to witness it, her greatness for a very long time.
On the USA women’s 50th-straight win and the legacy of the 1996 team:
It sounds like a big number. It is a big number, but I don't think people really understand what goes into it. They think we show up, and they think we’re automatically going to win basketball games. But what we put into it, the sacrifices that we put into it, players who continuously sacrifice – they all could be somewhere else for vacation, enjoying their families, who they don't get a chance to spend a whole lot of time with. They make a commitment. So to our greatness, it is because of the players who make that sacrifice and continue to do it and make playing in the Olympic Games really high priority in their athletic careers. And that's why we continue to add a 50th. I just hope that it’s a double nickel (55 straight wins) by the time it’s two weekends (from now).
When you took over coaching, knowing the USA Basketball legacy, did you have a moment where you thought, ‘here’s how I want to do this?’
The approaches is, I mean, it's the overall. I think I can see the big picture. And the big picture has a little of what you just mentioned in it, but I'm not really the one that picks the team. It’s a committee that picks the team, and they really think about all of those things. If we were very fortunate that Sue (Bird) and Diana (Taurasi) decided to come back, Sylvia Fowles decided to come back. Tina Charles, they all decided to come back. So, we have a pretty good core group of Olympians that said, ‘Hey, I will do this again.’ And then, you do have to think about what’s next? What will be the next coach have. They’ll have a pretty difficult time replacing some of the pieces that won’t continue to play USA Basketball and the Olympic Games. So, we have some of those pieces here. Hopefully, we can find a way for them to get some experience, so it won't be, if they decide to come back, it won't be such an eye-opening experience for them. Because it's much different than any other team that they'll every play on.
When you look at this team, how do you go about making sure that they're not burdened with the expectations of what has been accomplished in the past?
Each Olympic team takes on his own characteristics. I think the main thing is winning a gold medal. And it takes a great deal of sacrifice. It takes a great deal of putting yourself in the position that you've never been in before. You take for instance this particular game, when we have All-Stars not really playing a whole lot of minutes. We had people would had never started in an Olympic game. So, there's so many dynamics to it. I think for us, we always keep the main thing the main thing, and that is whatever it takes for us to win a gold medal. That takes a great deal of sacrifice. And we have to communicate that as a whole. And then we have to continue to communicate that individually, because some players won't understand why they're not playing. I didn't play a lot in my first Olympic Games, and I didn’t start until my third Olympic Games. So, it's an evolution to be where we are, and it hurts. It hurts it. They're competitors. But we got to win basketball games and that takes on a whole nother dynamic that we're always going to put the main thing and the team ahead of the main thing. The main thing is what makes us better and what prepares us for winning a gold medal.
What's your impression of Japan?
They pose a little different of a challenge, because they spread you out. They drive. They kick. They try to, they don't try, they get ahead of possession. And they create an advantage with their dribble-drives and kick outs and extra passes. So, we'll be challenged defensively, as we always have been challenged in every Olympic Games that we’ve played them. And then they’ll be challenged to just kind of control our inside play. But for us, we we've got to give them to two (point) us, rather than 3 us. If we can play the two game, I like our chances, because we have so many mismatches in the paint.
What do you see when you see the growth of the game with teams like Nigeria and others?
You feel the pressure. No doubt about it. We can't take anything lightly, nor do we. I think what's happening is, we've always had a target on our back. So, there won't be a letdown from our vantage point because we had it all the time. I mean, the target is on every team's back now, so there's no fat to this Olympic Games. It’s only lean competition. Certainly, I know, people who are viewing it, they anticipate great basketball, as you've seen not only on our side, but on the men’s side and every game that has been played has been a tight match.
On Sue Bird playing in 106 Olympic Games and having 13 assists:
Sue is like fine wine. She gets better with time. I looked at the stat sheet and saw 13 assists, and I’m thinking that’s normal. That’s normal Sue. But for someone else that hasn’t been around Sue, they think that’s a huge number and a great feat, and it is. But we’re so used to Sue doing these type of Sue things that we don’t take it for granted, it’s just comfort in knowing that you have a point guard that can make life easy for the people and all the teammates around her.
Sue Bird (Seattle Storm/Connecticut/Syosset, N.Y.)
On Nigeria forcing USA into turnovers:
That’s what they do. They like to make the game chaotic. They like to make you do things that you’re not used to doing, play a way that you don’t want to play. It’s never going to be pretty against them. So, I think a lot of the turnovers were because that’s what they’re trying to do, and then there’s probably a percentage there - let’s call it 25% - where we’re still getting comfortable. We’re still getting used to each other. We’re still getting used to FIBA and just how the referees are going to call the game.
On USA's performance:
I think the best part about this game for us is that from quarter one from quarter two, you saw we settled down. There was a little bit of adjustment. We calmed down, and we were able to play our game.
Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury/Baylor/Houston, Texas)
We just got to keep team off of the offensive boards as well as we can right now and then, me personally, I got to be better. I can’t have seven turnovers, because that really hurt the team a lot. But overall, I think we responded and pulled out this win against a good team.
On the USA women’s 50th win:
It is just an honor, honestly, to be able to put on that jersey I think for me and a lot of ladies on the team, just being able to keep that standard alive. Like coach said, there’s a lot of sacrifice that went into this, and we don't just walk out and win. There’s a big target on our backs and just getting the best shot from everybody. You never want to be disrespectful and not give it our all. It’s just a reminder whenever you where the just, and it’s just an honor to be a part of that.
You like being able to park yourself in the key, and Japan said today specifically that they're going to have to take you out to the 3-point line, so are you looking forward to playing small ball?
I am looking forward to the game. I am looking forward to getting my butt low and moving my feet. In all seriousness, that’s what they’re trying to do. They’re going to stretch us out. We’re just going to have to play really good team defense and keep them in front of us.
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury/Connecticut/China, Calif.)
On whether the USA players were nervous in their first game at Tokyo 2020:
I think it’s more just anxious to get out there. We’ve been in Tokyo for a week now, so I think we were all just chomping at the bit to get out there and play against someone different.
On whether committing 25 turnovers was a bit too much:
Twenty-five would be a lot too much. I’m sure that will be brought up. But Nigeria makes you play a very difficult style. They’re aggressive, and you’re not used to playing that style very often, so that’s more to do with Nigeria than us being sloppy.
On USA's next opponent, Japan:
I love the way Japan plays. Just when you think you’ve got it covered, there’s another 3-point shooter, so we have our work cut out for ourselves.
On the USA’s uniforms:
And we take a lot of pride in wearing these uniforms, and especially the red. I think that's a percentage of our team. And it's nice to go out there and represent.
Today was 50-straight for this program. Is that not something you guys talk about?
We really don't talk about it. To get to this point, if you're counting down games or counting up, I think you get lost in what's important. And I think that's the one thing that we've done, the culture we built is you respect who you play, and then you take on what's next. Whatever tomorrow is, whether it's practice, recovery, that's what we're focused on. And then the rest kind of takes care of itself.
Physically, how did you feel?
Hey, how many minutes did I play? That was a lot, Dawn (Staley). Twenty is about right for USA Basketball. I felt pretty good. Like I said before, hopefully I just keep getting a little bit stronger, a little bit better. And whatever I can do to help, that's what I'm here for.
You have now played in more games than anybody else in Olympic women’s basketball history, and this is USA Basketball’s 50th straight win, so any thoughts on either one of those?
I mean, just lucky, you know? You put all those years in, all those camps and you never think that you'll be able to play in so many. So, for one, I'm lucky. I’ve just been around a really good group of people, from USA management to players and coaches. Just really lucky, really fortunate. Let's keep it rocking.
And then the USA is 50th-straight victory in Olympic Games?
We don't really count them. We have too much respect for all these countries, and we know the next one's the most important one. So, I think it's a great feat. It tells you all the great players and coaches that have come through USA Basketball and just the kind of culture we’ve built.
A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces/South Carolina/Hopkins, S.C.)
Your first Olympic game. How did you feel out there?
Oh my gosh, I had to get the jitters out in the beginning, but it was a great feeling. My teammates really helped me kind of calm my nerves and just play my game.
Was it a little frustrating that the USA was by 20 and then they come back?
Yeah, it is. But at the same time, we know that basketball is a game of runs. So, at the end of the day, we just had to be consistent in what we were doing and get us back. Keep doing what got us the lead, and sometimes you kind of mentally fatigue, but then we snapped back and we got back in it.