Courtney Ryan controls the ball during a game against Team Netherlands at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 25, 2021 in Chofu, Japan.
There would be no easing into the Paralympic Games wheelchair basketball tournament in Tokyo. That much was certain for the U.S. women’s team.
The defending Paralympic gold medalists opened the Tokyo Games with perhaps its biggest test. Facing the defending world champions on Wednesday in the opening game of Group B preliminary round play, the U.S. dropped a tough 68-58 decision to the Netherlands at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza.
The young Americans face Spain on Thursday in their second preliminary round game.
An 18-6 fourth quarter spurt broke open a tight contest for the Dutch, who had trailed the U.S. 52-50 after three quarters. There were 10 lead changes during the game, which the Americans led most of the way.
“We came out and had nothing to lose,” said Team USA coach Lawrence Johnson. “We told the team to throw caution to the wind, and they played really well.”
The Netherlands took better care of the basketball during the game. The Dutch enjoyed an 11-4 advantage in turnovers against the Americans, who coughed up the ball four times in the decisive fourth quarter. The victors also dominated the offensive boards, 11-3.
“At the end of the game, there were some things we need to correct,” said Johnson, “the pressure situations that we must identify.”
Playing in her third Paralympic Games, Mariska Beijer led the Netherlands with 28 points. Teammate Bo Kramer contributed 20 points.
“We did a good job controlling the paint, but we needed to be more of a wall and push (Beijer) outside,” said three-time U.S. Paralympian Rose Hollermann.
Lindsey Zurbrugg topped the U.S. with 20 points, while Hollermann and Courtney Ryan had 14 points apiece.
Zurbrugg had the early hot hand, scoring 18 points before halftime.
“It felt pretty glorious in the first half,” Zurbrugg said. “They adjusted their defense (in the second half). They could not let me shoot wide open anymore, because I was hitting so well. So, they started putting more pressure on my side of the court.”
Kramer acknowledged that the Dutch changed their approach to Zurbrugg after the intermission.
“Oh, that girl’s insane,” Kramer said. “We changed some tactics in the defense — one small thing — and that worked out pretty well. Our press was a bit stronger, and they had a harder time coming through that.”
Hollermann, who despite being in her third Paralympics is still just 25, had an outstanding all-around game, adding 11 assists and nine rebounds. Ryan led the U.S. with 12 assists. Natalie Schneider also pulled down nine boards.
Only three players returned from Rio for the U.S., which swept the women’s and men’s gold medals in Rio for the first time since 1988. Meanwhile, the Netherlands had dominated the 2018 world championships, where the Americans had placed sixth. The Dutch are also the reigning European champions and won the bronze medal in the 2016 Paralympic Games.
Covid-19 had made it difficult to assess the Paralympic field. This opener showed that the U.S. team should be competitive.
“It felt so good to get back on the court and play an opponent instead of beating up on each other,” Schneider said. “A loss to start doesn’t dictate how we are going to do in the next game, and we will remind everyone of that.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo-2020-Paralympic-Games to view the medal table and results.