Additional Quotes: USA 86, Japan 69
USA head coach Dawn Staley (South Carolina)
I thought it was a nice competitive game. Honestly, Japan is a tough team to play against, just their style of play, always have been. After the first quarter I thought we did a great job disrupting them and not allowing them to take and make as many 3-point shots uncontested. We just forced them to put the ball on the floor and then our bigs got involved. I was happy that we locked down and got that done. I’m happy for our team because we are slowly coming together and playing the style of play we need to play to not only get better, but just compete and to get out of pool play because we’ve got a tough pool.
I'm seeing the clear separator being your most play and not just you, but you and a couple other women, the clear separator. Is that a fair statement and has rest of the world begun to catch on in terms of our guard play and shooting 3s, and do other things that make the games closer but they just not have that post presence?
That's a fair statement. I think we've always been, we've always had players who play in the paint and play with their backs to the basket. That has been our separator for a long time. Now, when we miss out and most of most of, you know ... most countries outside of us, they spread you out and they like to face the basket and we’ve had to make adjustments to having to play that way and guard that especially from a post play standpoint.
But you know, now we're in a place where we've learned that it's okay for four players to stretch the floor, shoot from the outside, or five players. For us, it is great knowing that we have both. We have players who can sit in the paint and score with their back to the basket, we have players to stretch the floor out. I think our separator is that nobody really else in the world has the type of post players that can play either the five, the center, that are mobile, that are able to defend out on the perimeter, and score with their backs against the basket, that are able to score facing up. So in a lot of ways, the rest of the world has taught us some things and they haven't really produced the type of post players we produce being true 5s or centers.
Comment about the legacy of the team and how you’ve been winners all these years. And I have a second question, how has it been for all you to be here in Tokyo during this pandemic Olympics.
The legacy of our team is truly based on the sacrifice of our players. We get all the best players to commit to play for USA Basketball year in a year out and that part hasn't gotten old. And it creates an opportunity for us to be the number one team in the world.
As for being here during a pandemic, it is what we used to. We were bubbled up and hunkered down all of last year. So let's you know, mentally we're able to we're able to understand it because we’ve been through it, if it’s our first time being hunkered down, you know, not being able to go out and take a walk, I think we would have some difficulty just, you know, putting that smile on our face and maybe even going out there and play the way we play. But we've all been there through it. They’ve been through it in a bubble. We’ve been through it on the NCAA level. I coached the (USA) AmeriCup team and we were hunkered down there. So mentally, it takes some time to adjust to it. If this is your first time doing it it's pretty hard to do it.
Japan kept it close against the U.S. five years ago in Rio for one half, today probably slightly bit longer despite missing some decent looks. Do say the gap between the two teams are closing or is that saying too much?
No, that’s a fair statement. The gap is closing with us and Japan and the rest of the world.
Our team isn't used to being pressed for 40 minutes. For Sue Bird and all of our guards to be able to take on all that pressure for 40 minutes, for our post players having to guard the 3-point line, they're so used to getting back in transition and guarding the paint, it takes them a while to adjust to stopping at that 3-point line and making sure that their player doesn't get off an open look. They have the ability to keep you moving, they keep you occupied, all five players are being occupied out there on the floor. And that's the style of play we're just not used to playing against all at once.
It's a beautiful thing to watch, (but) difficult to play against.
Ariel Atkins (Washington Mystics/Texas/Duncanville, Texas)
On what it feels like celebrating her birthday on game day:
Winning games is what it feels like.
On whether she ate any birthday cake:
No cake - trying to stay in shape.
Sue Bird (Seattle Storm/Connecticut/Syosset, N.Y.)
On the USA team having two close games:
It feels like a combination of things. I'm never not going to give credit to other countries for putting out great products. We watch the games when we're just hanging out the hotel, and you see there's so much talent. The game is obviously global, so it's getting better and better. But I think this tournament for us is, we talked about it the other day, it is unique in that we have six newcomers, so the chemistry, which is always our own internal battle, right, trying to rush chemistry, trying to put together a team and make it look like we've been playing together for months, when it's only been weeks. I think you're seeing a little bit of that, because these teams, what they're doing is, they're forcing us to play scrappy. They're forcing us to, you saw Japan, they just pressed for literally 40 minutes. You don't see that very often, and usually when you have a team that's used to playing together, you handle that stuff super easy, but we're kind of still figuring it out. So, we're on this journey, and I think that is a little bit of a difference in comparison to previous Olympic teams,
Is it sharpness that your missing? You’re winning games but you're not that super-sharp machine.
Here’s what I'll say. I feel like we've been telling, not you, but we've been telling you guys for years that we're making it look easy, something (that's) really hard. And now I think what you're seeing is, it can be like we told you - it is hard, and it doesn't always work out. But we've made it look easy for a really long time. And that's not to say that we're not headed in the right direction. I think with each practice with each game, we're getting a little more comfortable because teams are going to continue to play us that way. So, we have to be ready for it. But yeah, this is this is our big, 'I told you so.'
I saw your body language when your shot went in. After not making shots over these first two games (1-14 FGs), was it like a monkey off your back?
Yeah, this is every battle players have been through like this. So, it feels good to see to see it finally go in. I try not to overthink it. Yes, it's frustrating. It's a part of the game, here we are. I hope to make more. I'm sure I'll miss some as we go. So, you just have to have a short memory. It's so much easier said than done. You know, like I said, we all go through it at some point. I hate that it's happening right now, but hey I'm just going to keep shooting, might as well keep throwing it up there. When you're making them, I'm not thinking about it right when you're making them. So, you’ve got to stop thinking about it.
Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury/Baylor/Houston, Texas)
Is it fair to say your incredible skill in the front court separates you from the competition?
Coming in, not knowing anything from anything and just kind of being wide-eyed, I think I definitely mark a lot of that credit to my coaches and my players, Sue (Bird) and Dee (Diana Taurasi), Syl (Sylvia Fowles), for really just showing me the way. How to play basketball the right way and actually showing me the potential that I had that I didn't really know that I had. So, I just got to give them all a lot of credit for that. But it's coming together I feel like now.
Do you have a favorite Olympic memory that you still think about?
Winning gold. That's something that not a lot of people get to experience, and in Rio, with everything that was going on even then, it was an experience that I'll never forget, and I want to feel it again.
In 2016, I think the average margin of victory was something like 35 or 36 points for your team. Do you guys feel like it's going to be different this time? Tougher?
I feel like every time we go into a game, we know that we're going to get that country's best shot. And, like Sue (Bird) said, it's kind of like, everybody thought we just walked out and just got buckets and had this huge margin, but we get everybody's best shot. And it's just good basketball going on right now in the world. And I think we're going to be fine. But I think everybody is kind of like looking at it, like, ‘Oh, my God.’ But it's not an, ‘Oh, my God’ moment. It's just, we're doing what we need to do right now.
What do international teams do better than we used to?
The level of play is getting harder. Overseas, in Europe and Euro ball, it's just it's more attention to it. It's more attention in women's sports now. Credit you all for giving us more coverage. Thank you all. But, it's growing, and you can see it now. It's birthing now.
Are international teams better shooters now?
You see it every position now. I mean, Japan, everybody out there shooting 3s. I think that's how the game is kind of evolving. Everybody’s running to the 3-point line and shooting more now. The craftiness, I feel like it's always been there. But you see more bigs getting more crafty now too, as well and pulling it.
Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm/Notre Dame/Lincolnwood, Ill.)
On her first Olympic experience:
I’ve just been taking every moment in, embracing it. Obviously, it’s not a typical Olympics, but I don’t know what it was before. This is my first experience. So, I’m feeling good. It helps when you have great leadership, and also when you are here with your best friend, Stewie (Breanna Stewart), it makes it a lot easier. It makes you feel comfortable. The veterans have made it very easy for me just to fit in and do what I do.
On the USA’s veterans:
It definitely helps. I’ve been very fortunate to play with Sue (Bird) pretty much my whole career, so learning from her has been a privilege. And then knowing that they are the best-of-the-best with her and Diana (Taurasi) here, Syl (Sylvia Fowles), their wisdom. That’s stuff that you can’t really challenge, because they have been here. They’ve done it. So, I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from them.
On how USA is improving as the tournament goes on:
Just communication. One, we’re getting used to the ball. And then two, just working on making sure we’re just all in for each other and understanding the personnel a little bit better. And kind of taking a breath. We’ve played a little fast in other games, so just trying to get a rhythm for us, take it slow and play our basketball.
On Japan’s speed:
It’s fundamental basketball at that point. You got to stay down in your stance and really play defense communicate, which we did really well in the second quarter going on, and just trust our defense, trust our help. They do a great job of shooting 3s and attacking the paint, but for us, it's really staying home and grounded.
Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm/Connecticut/North Syracuse, N.Y.)
On France, the USA's third preliminary round opponent:
France is a team that I know all of us respect. We know how good they are and can be. They can shoot lights out, they have dominant post players, and now (with) Gabby Williams bringing that versatility it's gonna be a tough game. And it's going to be physical, it's going to be a grind. But for us, I think the most important thing is to get that win and to carry that into the quarterfinals.
A'ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces/South Carolina/Hopkins, S.C.)
I mean, yeah, just really what coach Staley was saying, Japan's always a team that is very competitive and is gonna take us out of our normal things like going to our post players. When it comes to Japan we have to really guard their guards, so they kind of keep us on our toes. But we really played to our strength and our talents and we got the win, so I’m happy about that.
What's it like for you to try to, I guess, keep up the tradition of dominant American post play?
It's hard. But I'm so blessed and honored to be around the vets like Syl (Sylvia Fowles), like Tina (Charles), like BG (Britany Griner), Stewie (Brianna Stewart), they really took me under their wing and just make me comfortable so I can play my game. But it is tough. I mean, you look down the stretch of USA Basketball on the women's side of the roster, Hall of Famers, is incredible. So for me to be in the list of that, it kind of gets to me at times, but at times I'm just like, you know, I'm surrounded by players that are going to make me better and I’m just trying to be a good teammate.
Comment about the legacy of the team and how you’ve been winners all these years.
Yeah, I mean, the legacy is still surreal to me. Honestly, I remember just playing USA Basketball in the U19s and now I'm on the big team, it's awesome, I'm not gonna lie to you. And I'm just glad that I can share this moment with my collegiate coach, coach Staley again. Just upholding the standards of what we do and I hope to continue that. Tokyo has welcomed us with open arms.
Honestly, I can't pick just one. They all kept me on my toes 100%.