Red Tops White In U.S. Dress Rehearsal for FIBA Women’s World Cup
The U.S. roster won’t be set until days before the first game of the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup in Australia, but the future was on display Friday night in Las Vegas.
The USA Women’s National Team Red-White game, part of the USA Basketball Showcase Presented by Coinbase, took place at Cox Pavilion as players took their shots at roster spots.
The World Cup begins Sept. 22 in Sydney.
Diamond DeShields, a six-time gold medalist with USA Basketball who plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, scored a game-high 15 points for the Red Team in its 72-59 victory over the White. Natasha Howard of the New York Liberty had a double-double, scoring 10 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for the White.
But the night was about more than the numbers.
“This was really valuable because it shows what we grasp and then what we need to take deeper dives on,” said Cheryl Reeve, USA Basketball Women’s National Team head coach. “I thought it was a productive night for us. Defensively I think we’re doing some good things. I’d like to feed the post more than we did and I’d like our bigs to be a little more assertive about carving out some spots.”
One of those “bigs” who had no trouble carving out a significant role Friday was Aliyah Boston, a 6-foot-5 forward from South Carolina.
Boston, 20, is the youngest player on the training camp roster by two years, but she showed no fear going up against the pros. Boston scored 11 points and had eight rebounds for the White Team.
“Going out there tonight, I just wanted to run the floor and be physical – which it definitely was,” Boston said. “I tried to mentally prepare for that, but I don’t really think I could. It’s a different level of physicality than you face in college, but I just wanted to go out and work hard.”
Boston is the only non-professional player vying for a roster spot and still keeping up with college assignments.
“I really hope my teachers rock with me on this one,” Boston said with her trademark smile. “I’ve been doing homework every day that I’ve been here after practice, so I’m going to continue to do that and hopefully I get to go to Australia. I have a killer accent.”
The Red Team played with a roster of seven, while the White Team only had six with Katie Lou Samuelson unable to play due to an injury. This meant the coaching staff got a good look at how each player would hold up playing more minutes than they typically would with full rosters.
“There were plans for greater numbers that didn’t work out for a variety of reasons,” Reeve said. “We wanted to have some rotations, but it didn’t work out that way. I give these guys credit because they did the best they could with it and the running clock helped, too.”
Reeve’s task is to put the pieces of the puzzle together as she combines young players with WNBA and USA Basketball veterans. She was a spectator during the game, leaving the coaching duties to assistants Kara Lawson and Joni Taylor.
“It was good for me in terms of what resonated and what didn’t,” Reeve said. “I did yell a couple of times. … I don’t know if anybody could hear me. We have a really talented assistant coaching staff and I enjoyed having a different look at things.”
The veteran of the training camp bunch, 35-year-old Angel McCoughtry, played 18 minutes as she works her way back from an injury during the WNBA season. The 13-year WNBA vet, who has won five gold medals in international competition including a pair of World Cup titles, likes what she sees with the new generation of players.
“It reminds you of your younger self,” McCoughtry said. “It reminds you of how far you’ve come and you continue to encourage them because they come in a little nervous and don’t know what to expect. Aliyah felt the difference in tempo between college and here, but it’s good for her to get this experience now so when she gets to the league, she already knows what to expect.”
There is also a trio of 22-year-olds at camp: Rhyne Howard (14 points), Shakira Austin (8 points, 5 rebounds) and NaLyssa Smith (7 points, 7 rebounds).
Kayla McBride, an eight-year WNBA vet, remembers when she first hit USA Basketball.
“It was surreal because you’re coming from a team where you pretty much have the ball in your hands all the time to a much different pace,” McBride said. “But you get to measure yourself up, and in that moment I decided it was something I wanted to do – compete at the WNBA level.”
“Everybody brings something different,” McCoughtry added. “When I was 20, I wanted to listen to the vets and do the little things right, but I was a ball of energy and I could play all day. I wish I still had that energy now. The main things are listening, watching and learning to get better.”
Justin Shaw is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.