Quotes: USA 84, Belgium 75
It was a game that I thought we played well, early on. I thought our defense was difficult to play through for much of the first half, and it kind of helped us get through some of our unfamiliarity with one another offensively. As we worked through that, we got some good flow. We just didn’t carry it over into the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter, our defense was really poor. Overall, I thought we made things difficult for their best player, and that was a goal. Overall, I thought we accomplished some of the things we wanted to get done.
You’re familiar with Emma Meesseman from the WNBA. How big of a concern was she?
She’s one of the best players in the world. And just like anybody, when you’re playing her, you’re hopeful just to make things difficult. You know she's going to score. We just want to make it difficult, make her catches hard. They got some things out of that when we were giving her a lot of attention. But I thought, again, the first half, I thought we were pretty good about getting to people that were open off of our flooding into the paint. And overall, in the second half, I thought, she had some shots in the paint that were way too easy. And we just lost our focus on what we were doing. Emma's always got your full attention. So, when she's on the floor, I thought we executed the game plan fairly well against her. But if we had another quarter play, I hope we would return to how we played in the first half.
On the USA’s guard play, working with a younger group that is now without Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi:
We spent the training camp trying to learn about what we had, and what came through in the training camp was that we had really good guard play. We had wings in particular, Kelsey (Plum) had a really good week leading into today's game. I told her that. Kelsey is in great shape. And that oftentimes puts you way ahead of people, and she can go, go, go. She has a great belief in herself. And I thought that she was really attentive about what we were trying to get done for her at the point guard spot. I thought her aggression at both ends and her pace was really, really helpful.
But overall, our perimeter play, I thought was the strength of the camp. And we were just trying to make sure we had some good balance, where Ariel (Atkins) started and Allisha Gray comes in for her. We just tried to have those platooning roles. It's nice to have Kayla McBride come off the bench. She was really efficient for us. Brionna Jones was really efficient for us. Kelsey was there all week, and Kelsey just has a unique ability to carve out space and give you really good opportunities. So, what you saw today was probably what through most of the week is what it's been like.
On the play of Ariel Atkins:
First thing we said to her when we walked in the gym was, ‘you’re a vet now.’ And she looked, and she's like, ‘okay, I can do that.’ And what I've seen from her is, she's got a maturity now. She's played on a very good team, very well coached team. It shows when she plays, and we've just really counted on her. And, we put her in a key role defensively tonight, and she's just trustworthy. It's probably one of the greatest things you can say about a player. And they realize that and, other than I let her get tired, I probably should have got her (out) before she got a little tired. But, but overall, that’s a player that I trust. I put her in spots to make passes, I put her in spots to make shots, put her in spots defensively. So, Mike (Thibault) is very fortunate, he made a hell of a pick when he when he drafted Ariel Atkins.
With the shortened time between the Olympics and the World Cup, are you concerned with the rebuild of the team?
Yeah, I think the players don't mind it. It’s less training camps for them. They don't mind it. They get right to the good stuff and play games.
But you have a new quad, new coaches, new players, a new pool. This is a transition time for USA Basketball, and obviously this week together was important. That's why I was really appreciative that Breanna Stewart, Elena Della Donne and Angel McCoughtry were here. Because even if they couldn't be in everything, just listening and seeing what we want to do, what we want to be about (was important), and of course Elena was at the game here tonight.
You know, it is what it is. In the WNBA, we go through this all the time. Like shorten this, shorten that, you only got two days to get ready for something. So, it's something that we're kind of used to, and you have to be nimble. And you have to have a group that is really passionate about what they're doing and selfless. And I think if you do that, you could probably do anything on the court. You just have to work on your schemes. And that's what USA Basketball is about. And we'll see if that can carry us through. The world is good, right? Like you're mentioning these teams, a lot of new coaches, too. But, you know, we will do what we always do, and we'll put our best team out there and just see if we can't just do it the way that we've always done it in the past.
CHELSEA GRAY (Las Vegas Aces/Duke)
On the game against Belgium:
It was a good effort by us, finally being able to play against somebody else and compete at a high level. We knew Belgium wasn’t going to be easy. Basketball is a game of runs, and you saw them be able to knock down shots and show their capabilities in the fourth quarter. They’re well coached. They’ve been playing together for a long period of time, but at the end of the day we just have to find a way to win the game.
What do you think it was like for your teammates who were playing in their first USA National Team game, or who haven’t had a lot of USA National Team experience?
I think there were some nerves. It goes to another level when you put on this red uniform. But just the ability to play, join in on the legacy, you bring all that with you when you put on that uniform. So, I’m sure there was some excitement. There will probably be the same kind of excitement tomorrow. You get used to it, but not really. It’s always special when you’re able to go out there and you’re checking in for the United States and you’re not just playing for your respective teams.
On the play of Kelsey Plum:
Oh, she’s hooping! I’m glad I get to take her back to Vegas. She’s hooping. She’s playing great and not only on offense. I know she’s making shots, but defensively she was being disruptive and picking them up full court, and that’s what we’re going to need if we’re going to compete for a World Cup gold medal.
NATASHA HOWARD (New York Liberty/Florida State)
So how was it playing in your first USA basketball game?
It was fun. I was nervous. Other than that, it was fun overall. I had fun competing against some of the great other athletes.
You’ve played against a number of the Belgium players in the EuroLeague. Did that help you a little bit?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Definitely. I played against number Kyara Linskens in Russia, I played against a couple of the overseas. So yeah, it helped.
BRIONNA JONES (Connecticut Sun/Maryland)
What was it like playing here in Washington, D.C., so close to your college and high school playing days?
It was a great experience for me. You know, my first time getting represent USA and to get to do it here in D.C., in front of my friends, my family. They’re all real close. Everybody got to come.
It was exciting to play and show what I can do on the on this stage. Playing under coach Reeve is amazing, just getting that perspective from her is great. I'm just excited to keep going.
You played for USA Basketball in the past but never worn the USA National Team’s red uniform. How did that feel?
It was great. You come in and see your jersey with the USA on the front and your name on the back. It’s just an honor and I'm blessed to be here.
KELSEY PLUM (Las Vegas Aces/Washington)
I agree with coach. Anytime you’re playing for USA Basketball, we’re playing to try to get better. I think that we made some good steps. But like coach said, we took our foot off the gas in the second half in the fourth quarter, and, you know, 30 points in the fourth quarter is too many. We’re going to have to clean that up for tomorrow.
You got the opportunity to play with this group in exhibitions and then play on the 3x3, how much do you think that helped you make the transition to this group, given the fact you had a short week to prepare?
I think anytime that you play USA Basketball, regardless of the style, there's just a level of intensity, and coach talked about the selflessness that you play with. And so for me, anytime, I've experienced this in basketball, it's helped me for this moment, and I feel very prepared. I feel like I'm ready to step into whatever coach needs me to do and my team needs me to do. I mean, it's exciting. Opportunities like this, you have to make the most of that.
How would you say, 3x3 basketball has helped evolve your game? And just what are your overall thoughts on getting the opportunity to represent USA Basketball on the USA National Team again?
I think 3x3, it's helped me defensively a ton. With 3x3, there's not a ton of help, you're pretty much on the island a lot of times, and you have to give significant ball pressure to take time off the clock. And so that's helped me in trying to stay in front of people and applying pressure. And just offensively, just being … I'm still working on it. Sometimes I go too fast and get sped up, but just try to play with tempo. You know that ability to play the tempo and play with pace, especially because the USA has so much depth. If I can give a shot of adrenaline into the game, that's kind of my goal. And so, I tried to do that today. I thought overall we've had great effort all week. Coach talked about it all week. We've had tremendous effort defensively. We had a lot of deflections, a lot of turnovers, because we were playing really hard. So, that's the goal, and it was fun.