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USA Women's World Cup Team Ready to Defend Gold

  • Author:
    Owen Kaelble, IUPUI
  • Date:
    Sep 21, 2022

When USA Basketball begins play in the FIBA Women’s World Cup Wednesday night against Belgium, the three-time defending champions expect to begin without recently-crowned WNBA champs Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and A’ja Wilson.

It is a quick turnaround for the three Las Vegas Aces as the franchise claimed its first WNBA title on Sunday. Fans had a chance to greet the victors and celebrate at the championship parade and now the trio has to quickly regroup and get ready for the nearly 8,000-mile-long trip to the land down under.

In the meantime, USA Basketball has a group of experienced players ready to display the depth and resilience of the team until the roster becomes whole. The squad grew by two on Wednesday, local time, with the addition of the Connecticut Sun’s Brionna Jones and Alyssa Thomas, who were on planes to Sydney shortly after falling in Game 4 to the Aces.

“That’ll be a factor for sure,” said coach Cheryl Reeve, “but it’s a short-term situation, so you get through those games the best you can and obviously we’ll be able to feature a little bit more as the competition moves on.”

The USA, ranked No. 1 by FIBA, will begin the 19th World tournament with a 22-game winning streak. The last meeting against Belgium, the next-highest ranked team in Group A at No. 5, was a 93-77 victory in the 2018 semifinal.

The plan, eventually, will be to pick up the pace. “We want to race up the floor and play ahead in possessions and play off of our defense,” Reeve. “I think we’ve had some good signs in our February work [World Cup Qualifying tournament] and the couple weeks we’ve been together as we’ve trained for this competition.”

While the addition of Gray, Plum and Wilson will undoubtedly add veteran leadership, World Cup champions Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd are ready to lead the U.S. into the competition.

Stewart, while recognizing that possibly having fewer active players on the roster than the opposing team may be seen as a disadvantage, would rather focus on the potential advantages.

“Starting off with Belgium is not an easy task and it gives us a lot of opportunity to grow, especially for players that haven’t had experience here,” said Stewart. “But we know we have reinforcements coming, we just need to hold it down until then.”

Similarly, Reeve sees an opportunity to continue the tradition of USA Basketball, of one generation passing on talent to the next, garnering consistent success.

“I continue to say to the players there’s space to step in, there’s available opportunity to fill voids; could be skillset, could be leadership,” she said. “What I do know is that Sue (Bird) and Dee (Diana Taurasi) replaced an era of Dawn Staley and (Sheryl) Swoopes and so that just seems to happen over time, right?”

Even if the USA is limited to as few as seven players to start, Stewart points out that according to the rules of basketball, that does not really matter.

“I just think that there’s a lot of intangibles that we can control,” she said. “That’s our effort and how we push the ball, our pace, making sure that we’re all locked in. And yeah…it’s only five on the court at a time. So, we’re more so looking forward to start playing than realizing how many we might not have.”

Owen Kaelble is a contributor to USAB.com as part of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI.

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