Brittney Griner passes during the 2021 WNBA All-Star Game on July 14, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
LAS VEGAS — While international competition grows stronger each year, so does the depth of American basketball.
That was evident Wednesday as the U.S. women’s basketball team lost to the WNBA All-Stars 93-85 in the first of three pre-Olympic exhibition games at the Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
In the three previous games between the women’s national team and WNBA stars, the U.S. won each meeting by an average of 23 points and all by at least 16 points.
Brittney Griner led the U.S. with 17 points, and Breanna Stewart added 15 points, six rebounds and three assists. However, they proved unable to match the WNBA, led by Arike Ogunbowale, who scored nine of her 26 points in the fourth quarter and was named All-Star MVP. Included in her fourth-quarter theatrics was a four-point play with 5:37 remaining to put the WNBA up 79-73.
Without Diana Taurasi, who sat out with a hip muscle strain, the six-time defending Olympic champion U.S. team started Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd, A'ja Wilson, Stewart and Griner, with Chelsea Gray and Tina Charles the first off the bench.
Various combinations of this U.S. team have played together in this Olympic cycle and posted a 17-1 record, with the only loss coming in 2019 to Sabrina Ionescu-led Oregon, the top-ranked college team in the nation.
There were three Olympians from other countries on the WNBA roster: Liz Cambage of Australia, Jonquel Jones of the Bahamas and Satou Sabally of Germany.
The WNBA scored the first hoop of the game, then the U.S. rattled off 11 of the next 13 points. However, the WNBA pulled even at 17-17 before Team USA’s Skylar Diggins-Smith hit a 3-pointer with 23.4 seconds left in the first quarter for a 28-25 edge.
After shooting 66.7 percent in the first quarter (12 of 18), the U.S. went cold in the second, hitting just 30.4 percent (7 of 23) and trailed 44-43 at the break.
The WNBA extended its advantage to 53-48 on two-time Olympian Candace Parker’s basket with 6:11 left in the third quarter. But Stewart scored the next five points for the U.S. to tie it up 53-53. Gray’s layup with six-tenths of a second left in the quarter tied it 66-66 entering the fourth.
Interestingly, the 12 Olympians come from just five WNBA teams: the Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm have three players each, while the Las Vegas Aces, Minnesota Lynx and Washington Mystics each have two on the Olympic roster.
The U.S. will play two more exhibitions, Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN as part of a men’s and women’s doubleheader against Australia, and Sunday at 5:30 p.m. on the Olympic Channel against Nigeria. Then, it is off to Tokyo.