Additional Quotes: USA 79, Serbia 59
U.S. Olympic Team head coach Dawn Staley (South Carolina)
Can you please give us your comments about the game?
It wasn't our best overall performance. I thought we did a tremendous job defensively, just making it really hard for the Serbian team to get off clean looks. Offensively I just thought we put enough points on the scoreboard to win. It wasn't as clean and fluid as we would like. But at this stage of the game, you're going to have to win a lot of different ways, and we found a way to win.
Why do you think that this program has just been able to deliver so often, no matter the circumstances?
Well, our Women's National Team program does well because we get full commitment from our best players year in and year out. Whether it's World Cups, whether it's Olympic Games, and every Olympic Games you hear a story about a great player, or two or three being left off of this team, and it is that type of commitment that creates the controversy each and every World Cup or Olympic Games. They make the sacrifice, make the commitment. So, when you're at an event like this, and you're playing with the best players in your country, and if you're representing United States, you bring in a pretty darn good team.
Diana (Taurasi) and Sue (Bird) both have been, I guess, trying to be pretty unsentimental about the end of this. Have they been successful at that? Or how much are you and I guess the whole team kind of thinking about the last dance aspect of this?
I mean, we're not. I think they're doing a great job keeping everything in check, because the main thing is winning the gold medal. And I know they want to win their fifth, and we want to help them win their fifth. And I think the cool thing about it is, we're treating it like any other Olympic Games, where we take one game at a time, and we celebrate our wins, and we turn the page and we look forward to the next time that we compete. But I know it's going to be pretty special. I know they're probably just reserving to that moment of actually winning their fifth gold medal and our seventh straight gold medal.
Did Diana (Taurasi) get a little banged up there. Is she healthy? Do you expect her to be full go for the gold medal game?
Yeah, I thought she got banged up. She grimaced, and anytime she's going to grimace we got to get her out of the game. But she'll be ready to rock and roll on Sunday morning.
The next goal is trying to get the gold at this point. How nice is it to at least be one game away from that?
This journey started rocky a month ago. I mean, you have the naysayers saying this or that. And you just kind of have to turn a deaf ear to that, because it's a process for the 12 member roster that we put together. And, I don't know if we didn't drop those two games early, if we would be where we are today, because of, you know, thinking we are just that much superior than everyone else. So, it's good to have seen this team progress each and every game. There was something about each game that we played that we've gotten better in, and that's a beautiful thing to see. And then you've got highly competitive women who, they just want to win. Doesn't matter what it looks like, or who scores, or who rebounds. They just want to win. So it's an incredible space for me as a player and a coach to enjoy that, because it's pure, it’s innocent, and it's never duplicated on any other team.
You obviously have so much talent on the team. But with the playing time that BG (Brittney Griner) and Stewie (Breanna Stewart) are getting, do you see them as kind of the emerging leaders of the of the next step of this program?
Yeah. Every quadrennium, there are players that will rise to the challenge. Stewie (Breanna Stewart) has been around, you know, seems like forever. This is only her second Olympic Games, but she's been with USA Basketball for all of her young life. And the same with A’ja (Wilson). A’ja has been on three U19 teams. And you see, when they were very young, like, you know, those players will be in the position of where they are today because of who they are, the talent that they possess and the selflessness that they give to each and every team that they come on. So I'm not surprised. They are young stars in their own right. And, I'm sure if they continue to want to play USA Basketball and in Olympic Games. No coach is going to leave the country without them.
Brittany (Griner) seems like ever since she's gotten to the WNBA, there's been so much pressure on her to just be this dominant force. But it just seems like in the Olympics, she's allowed to be yourself a little bit more. Do you notice a different Brittany with USA Basketball?
I've coached Britney as an assistant coach under Geno (Auriemma) on the 2016 Olympic team and then now. I think it's just a maturity thing. And, you know, her first Olympic Games in Rio, she played a whole lot. I don't think she played like she's playing now. We do emphasize getting her the ball. She's in great shape. She wants the ball. She is very competitive. She wants to do well. And when all of those things are lining up, you play your best basketball, and I think she's playing her best Olympic basketball in the two that I've been around her in.
What do you think of the French team? Do you think they are playing better than earlier?
Did you hear about Pop’s (Gregg Popovich) answer? That one? Here's what I really enjoy about where we are today. The teams in our pool, I mean we really went at it. You know, Japan, even Nigeria, France and then us, we had the hardest time in our pool. And it's not surprising that we're basically last three standing at this point. I have somewhat an affinity to France, because I played in France. The president of the French Federation was my coach. So, I want France to do well, but at the same time, we’re in Japan. And, Japan has, you know … Tom's (Hovasse) done a great job at getting Japan where they are. Today, I read an article, when he took over the program, he said they'll compete for a gold medal. And that's a cool thing. And nobody probably believed that. And they're here with a chance to compete for a gold medal. So, I hope they play a triple overtime game, and they won't be able to practice tomorrow. So that gives us a little bit of edge on Sunday morning.
Diana (Taurasi) mentioned that she's been dealing with this hip injury for a little while. Can you tell us a little bit more about what is going on with her?
I sure can’t. I don't touch injuries. You would have to get the medical staff up there. What I when I will tell you is, every time we suited up to play a game, she's available. And I really don't see anything changing with a gold medal being on the line.
Did she sit the rest of the game because of the score, or because of the injury?
Well, she (Diana Taurasi) sat because we got a gold medal game coming up on Sunday, and we want her to be at her best her. Whether that's 80%, 100%, 50%, we want her to be where she is today. … She needs to on the floor for us to be successful. Any time that she is, whether she scores a point or not, you have to pay attention to Diana Taurasi with all the others skills that she brings to the table.
Sue Bird (Seattle Storm/Connecticut/Syosset, N.Y.)
How are you feeling? How's the team looking feeling?
I think, since we've entered the knockout rounds, we've come to each game with a little more focus. So, you're seeing the results. Most of it's starting on the defensive end, and we're just carrying that with us onto the offensive end. As usual with USA Basketball, when we come together, we just try to get on a path where we're just getting better and better every day along the journey. And so I still think there's another level that we can get to, and I hope that's what happens in two days.
Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx/Louisiana State/Miami, Fla.)
On proceeding to the gold medal game:
I’m happy we made it back to the gold medal round. We still have some things to clean up, but I like the cohesiveness that we have. The starting players did a really good job setting the tone for the bench.
On how the team stays focused:
Just making sure we hold each other accountable is the first step not to be complacent. And having fun, this whole ride. This Olympics is not the same. We just try to do the best we can, make sure we’re in tune with each other, and talk to each other as much as possible.”
On her teammate Brittney Griner’s improvement:
All around. She’s talking more. She’s stepping away from the basket more. She’s more comfortable with the ball in her hands away from the basket. So, her all-round game has evolved.
On USA's strategy for the final:
Just make sure we keep our cool. The winning team (France or Japan) is going to come out extra aggressive, but we have to fight through that. At this point, we’re locked in on the task ahead of us. We’re just trying to win the gold.
Chelsea Gray (Las Vegas Aces/Duke/Manteca, Calif.)
What was the game plan against Serbia? What did you guys execute?
Defensively, just keeping them out of the paint. Making it difficult for them. We knew they were going to pack the paint defensively as well, so making the right reads and playing off of each other.
How is the team feeling heading into the gold medal game? What's the mood?
We're happy to be playing the gold medal game. For me it's my first, so I'm excited to be here. But we're not done yet. We have one goal coming here, and we got to go for it.
What's it like for you coming into games? Is it easy to get going? Is it difficult?
I’m just here to get the job done. Whatever I can do to help, it's one piece of the puzzle. So, I got to do my job.
You had a great game tonight. Was that because of extra focus, or was it in the flow of the game?
It was probably just in in the flow of how the game was going. I just got to produce while I'm out there.
Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury/Baylor/Houston, Texas)
I'm just happy we got the win, honestly.
Now that you all have reached the gold medal game, obviously everybody wants to win that medal for themselves. But with Sue and Diana, their chance for a fifth gold, how much do you want to win for them as well?
I think everybody here wants to win gold for them, for us, for everybody that started this streak and got us here. I mean, there's a lot of different reasons why we want to win this gold medal. So, I think you going to see some really good basketball in the gold medal game.
How do you think the team has handled the elements – the isolation, the not being able to do anything and channeling the energy into playing basketball?
I think we've handled it well. You know, we get together in the hotel and we do things together, and we take our time away, you know, in our rooms, or in our separate little areas. And then we come to practice, and we come to the games and we're ready to perform. We know what's on the line. You know, we came here to win gold no matter how it looked – isolation, freedom, whatever. At the end of the day, we knew we needed to be professionals and come here to get the gold.
What is it about competing with this group of women? What is it that makes you want to keep playing for this team?
Just the level of play, the intensity. And I speak for myself, I love that. I love the intensity. I love how it’s just tradition, you know. You put in your time, and you go and win gold and you try to keep doing that each and every time. So, I think that just the culture of the women's USA Basketball program is what keeps everybody coming back for more.
On playing at her second Olympics:
I have way more confidence, and I am at ease. At my first Olympics, I just wanted to sit back and learn from more seasoned players. But this Olympics, after playing nine years in WNBA, playing overseas, and knowing the players too, I have played many players of team Serbia overseas. So just having that confidence and familiarity, I can play well.
On her all-round game improvement:
Definitely feel more comfortable saying where I want it, I wouldn’t do that before. I was like, ‘where do you want me?’ before. Now, 'I want this blocker here and there'. On defense, just more confident knowing the game more, if you are not confident, you cannot yell.
On representing the USA:
I’m just playing for my country at the highest level. Playing at the top level is going to bring out the best. Like I used to practice with men in high school, it just brings out a little bit more that’s in you. Just representing the country brings out the best in you.
On the upcoming final game:
Just want the team to get the gold.
Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm/Connecticut/North Syracuse, N.Y.)
It seemed like they were physically, is that why the offense wasn’t in rhythm at times?
I think it was a mixture of both. I think that they had us catching it out a little bit farther, a little bit out from where we wanted to be. And that's how Serbia plays. I mean, they're tough. They're physical. They're gritty, and they showed that today, and they're going to go after bronze tomorrow.
What does it mean to you to be back in the gold medal game and a chance to keep the streak going and get a fifth one for Sue (Bird) and D (Diana Taurasi)?
This is exactly where we want to be. So now everything is on the line and we're going to do what we can to make sure that we come home with a gold.
In talking to Diana (Taurasi), she seems like she's trying to be very unsentimental about this. But do you guys kind of talk about it or realize how big of a deal it is that this era is sort of coming to an end?
I don't think we really talked about it as much, but we're all aware of it. What Sue (Bird) and Dee (Diana Taurasi), what they've done for USA Basketball is extremely special. The fact that they're going for five straight golds is insane. And I think for the rest of us as players, we want to make sure that we put them in the best possible position to get that gold.
Have there been any speeches from either of them or anything like that or out of the ordinary? No. I think that early on we talked as we were maybe going into the France game, just about enjoying the moment. I think that right now, there's so much pressure knowing that it's seven straight overall, things like that, that you kind of get lost in what's actually happening and enjoying being at the Olympics, being on the court, competing every single day. And I think we did that. We want to come out, we want to have fun, we want to win, obviously, and we have one more day.
As you just look back over the last couple of weeks, is handling all the elements and everything that has been thrown at you just the usual nature of this? Has it been as difficult as you imagined it might be?
To be honest, I don't think we really knew what to expect when we were coming here, coming to Tokyo for the Olympics. With the restrictions, protocols, everything, it's been hard. We're in the hotel. We don't go anywhere. Thankfully, we can go to the men's game at least to get out. But to have that on top of playing basketball, playing on the biggest stage there is, I'm really proud of what we're doing and the fact that we're able to kind of still play our best ,despite all the other circumstances.
A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces/South Carolina/Hopkins, S.C.)
How do you feel about this situation that women’s sports in less noticeable than men’s sports?
It's just a part of it. But the biggest thing and the best thing that we can do to grow the game is continue to be seen, continue to be heard, and just on big stages like this, we use ourselves to perform at a very high level and show why we are who we are, and we have fun while doing it. So, we can't really pay attention to that. But our game is really growing. I think we're growing as a team and everything. So that's the only thing we could do is just continue to grow.
How do you think situation can be changed?
Just being seen more, just being seen more on big stages, in newspapers, on social, anywhere. Just being seen is how you grow the game, and we're slowly getting there. So we're just going to take it step by step.
How do you contribute to make the change?
Just continue to be me, continue to be us and just have fun while doing it, and not really change up anything, just being ourselves and having fun while doing it.
Don't you feel scared to speak up about this?
Oh, no. I’m never scared to speak up for what I believe in and what I stand by. I'm going to use my voice. I feel like I have a great platform to do so and have a following of people watching us and listening to us. So, I'm never going to be scared to use my voice to be a voice for the voiceless.
Seems like as this tournament is going on you guys have settled in and really found your groove a little bit more. What's changing from game to game, and what really felt like it was cooking today?
I mean, we've been playing together for a while now. We’ve gotten practices. We played in games. We're starting to understand each other more. I mean, of course, across the board in our own markets, we're all that player. But when we get here roles change, and we have fun while doing it ,and we learn in games very quickly because we're professional athletes. So, I think we're just starting to mesh and gel at the right time, of course, coming up on this gold medal game. And we're not going to switch up anything. We're going to continue to do us and have fun.
What area of the game do you think you had the most improvement from the start of the tournament?
Defense, ball screens. Biggest thing is defense, and that comes from just playing well with each other, trusting the next layer of defense to be there. I think that's the biggest thing is on the defensive end, we're really starting to clamp down on our defenders and our teams, and we're just meshing together.