SEATTLE -- The no-look passes from Diana Taurasi. The indomitable inside duo of Sylvia Fowles and Breanna Stewart. The quickfire transition offense. It was all too much for China to handle two years ago in Rio, as much as it was on Thursday at the KeyArena.
The U.S. Women’s National Basketball Team romped to an 83-46 rout over China in its first game since hammering Spain 101-72 in the gold-medal matchup at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
Team USA was led by four double-digit scorers with Fowles at 16, Stewart and Taurasi each adding 14 and Elena Delle Donne putting up 10. Seattle Storm veteran Sue Bird finished with zero points and five assists.
“It was great to come out play our first exhibition game — especially in Seattle,” Stewart said. “Any time you’re ready to come out and represent USA, it’s an honor. It’s fun when you have the best players in the world playing around you.”
The last time Team USA and China met was in the Rio prelims where the Americans delivered a 43-point shellacking. Now with head coach Dawn Staley in her first game at the helm, the U.S. did it three points better with a 46-point win.
“We got off to a fast start, slowed down a little bit in the second quarter then we picked it back up,” Staley said. “A true mark of what USA Basketball is all about; being able to insert a lot of talent into the game.”
Thirteen of the 19 members of the national team pool were selected to play in the exhibition game. Six of them are Olympic champions, with two — Bird and Diana Taurasi — being four-time champs. Seven players have never been to a Games and some are new to the team entirely, but all questions about chemistry were erased once everyone found their roles.
“We’ve only been together for three days,” Bird, a four-time gold medalist, said. “This is a brand-new thing and basketball’s a team sport. Yeah we had some tough stretches, it’s going to happen. But as the game went people started to settle down a little bit. They’re going to have some jitters. Once that all cleared, everybody started to figure out their places and where they’re kind of going to fit in. You could see it come out in the second half.”
Thursday night’s game came on the heels of a two-day mini training camp session held on Tuesday and Wednesday at Seattle Pacific University. It was Team USA’s third closed-door workout in preparation of defending its title at the 2018 FIBA World Cup, taking place Sept. 22-30, in Tenerife, Spain. None of the 13 players in Thursday’s exhibition are guaranteed a spot on the World Cup roster.
Team USA jumped out to a 17-4 lead on a Tiffany Hayes fastbreak layup, then gave up an 8-2 run to end the first quarter. Holding a 23-12 lead and with all but one of its starting five subbed out at the start of the second quarter, the U.S. surrendered a 13-4 run to tie it up at 25 with 4:11 left before the break.
That was close enough for Team USA. Fowles’ offensive board and putback basket sparked a barrage of 17 unanswered points to end the first half, part of a 25-0 run that bled into the third quarter.
“They started to play zone, so we had to beat the zone down the floor,” Staley said. “We played faster basketball; played transition and allowed them sit back in that zone.”
Team USA increased its run and lead in the second half by working the ball inside and feeding Fowles and Stewart in the paint. Fowles knocked in eight-straight points with 7:41 to go in the third to give the Americans a 25-point lead.
“That is one of the strengths of our basketball team. We did a good job just moving the basketball and getting us into our high-low looks,” Staley said. This team is a very unselfish basketball team with a lot of weapons. Tonight we did our job. We got the ball into the paint. That’s a place in which we take advantage of a lot of teams.”
Taurasi’s wide-open 3-pointer from the left corner at 1:32 in the third opened up a 32-point lead. Team USA distanced itself for good by ratcheting up the tempo midway through the third quarter, by way of a merciless dribble-drive attack on offense. The U.S. gained its largest lead of the night, 40, on a 3-pointer by Kelsey Mitchell with 1:23 to go.
“More than anything it’s building blocks,” Bird said. “The last three days we’ve been able to set the foundation, set the groundwork, for what will be the building blocks for the World Cup and beyond. This is just the first step and I think it’s a pretty good one.”
The U.S. women will part for the summer and meet up again in September for final drillings before the World Cup. Team USA will earn an automatic berth to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo with a gold-medal finish at the World Cup. Should they falter, they’ll have two more opportunities to lock down a spot: at the 2019 FIBA AmeriCup and the 2020 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Team USA is two-time defending World Cup champs, and four of the last five, and will arrive in Spain with a 103-21 all-time record at the World Cup. They U.S. women face Senegal on Sept. 22, China on Sept. 23 and Latvia on Sept. 25, as part of Group D in the prelims.