U.S. women jell quickly for win
Despite little prep time, Americans look solid, outrebound Greece 43-19
Team USA did well the things that it was supposed to do well in its FIBA World Championship opener against Greece. And the things the American women probably weren't supposed to do well they were still good enough.
Coach Geno Auriemma and U.S. women got the butterflies out with a 99-73 victory over Greece on Thursday, a game that showcased individual talent trying to do a quick-blend act.
I think our biggest strength is going to be our depth: The fact that we can go 12 deep. Not a lot of teams can do that. And with nine games in 11 days, that is going to be huge. Come that seventh, eighth and ninth game, it really starts to wear on you.” -- U.S. point guard Sue Bird
It's pretty funny to think of Auriemma, with all the games and titles he has won, feeling sweaty-palmed before Thursday's contest. But it's also understandable, as proper preparation is so big a part of what has always made his UConn teams great. And there's no way, with the limited amount of time the Americans have had together before this competition began, that he could ever have felt properly prepared.
Even so, for the most part, they looked pretty good. Against this Greek squad, the U.S. women were expected to win the battle of the boards, and they did so decisively: 43-19. Tina Charles led the way with nine, but all 12 Americans grabbed at least one rebound.
Team USA also did the other thing most expected: The Americans wracked up points. Continuing their hot hands from the WNBA playoffs, Swin Cash and Angel McCoughtry both had 16 points. Three other Americans were in double figures, and everyone on the team scored at least two points.
That included center Sylvia Fowles, who got her first action after knee surgery at the end of the WNBA season. She had four points and three rebounds in seven minutes.
"I think our biggest strength is going to be our depth: The fact that we can go 12 deep," point guard Sue Bird said. "Not a lot of teams can do that. And with nine games in 11 days, that is going to be huge. Come that seventh, eighth and ninth game, it really starts to wear on you."
The thing is, the Americans' sheer amount of talent wears on other teams. That can't be all the team relies on, but it undeniably does make it easier.
What a collection of players. There is something about seeing all these stars together in the same uniform -- from 31-year-old Tennessee grad Tamika Catchings to 21-year-old UConn senior Maya Moore -- that should make any women's hoops fan with a pulse feel absolutely giddy.
OK, well, maybe not those who aren't Americans they probably get weary of Team USA the same way a lot of U.S. college fans might be tired of well, UConn.
To that end, there might be those U.S. viewers who roll their eyes at six Huskies -- five past, one present -- on Auriemma's Team USA roster. But these are all very accomplished players who've earned their way on to the squad. And their presence should accelerate improvement in the one area that the Americans always have some issue with: experience playing together.
With the entire squad, save Moore, having just come off the WNBA season, the team's synchronization is typically going to be the last thing that falls into place. But even that seemed to improve throughout the course of the opener.
"The first game's always the most difficult of games, because you're not sure what your team is going to do," Auriemma said. "I thought we played a really good team, we played really well for long stretches, and I'm excited about tomorrow."
It was good that Auriemma wasn't stressing too much about the fact that the Greeks shot 48.3 percent from the field, with Evanthia Maltsi scoring 29 points. Greece's cohesion as a unit was evident throughout. That mixed with the United States playing everyone, and as a result, the defense wasn't up to usual Auriemma standards.
TEAM USA SCHEDULE
NBA TV will televise each of the U.S. national team's games. The prelimary round schedule:
|Sept. 25||France||9:15 a.m.|
The reason he wasn't too upset about it is that there was no reason to think the United States was going to do everything right in the opener.
Greece has worked harder to become a better team internationally, and the Americans really weren't supposed to just come in and crush them. Auriemma knew that, and realized this was actually a very good first test: Close enough for most of the game to keep the Americans on their toes, but also well enough in hand for everyone to comfortably get a chance to play.
"Sometimes in these tournament games, I've noticed that you can't just rely on your defense," Auriemma said. "You have to outscore people. You've got to keep scoring points every time down the floor, because it's difficult to stop the other team sometimes. I think we can do that."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.