- Kaitee Daley
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UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Women's basketball fans were expecting great at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday. Team USA's Sylvia Fowles delivered.
The 6-foot-5 center pulled down eight boards and poured in 23 points on 9-of -11 shooting to capture the Stars at Sun MVP honor. Her powerful post presence set the pace for the U.S. national team, which cruised to a 99-72 victory over the WNBA All-Stars.
"I'm blessed and fortunate to go out there and compete to the best of my abilities," said Fowles, who plays for the WNBA's Chicago Sky when not representing USA Basketball. "But at the same time, I wouldn't have done this on my own. I had my coaches in my ear and my teammates telling me to go out and dominate the game, so that's what I did."
Logging just more than 16 minutes of work, "Big Syl" was efficient and strong, plucking rebounds from both ends of the floor and fielding nifty passes from her multi-talented teammates. No one gave her an open lane for a dunk like they did in last year's All-Star Game festivities (http://www.youtube.com), but Fowles isn't one for reveling in the spotlight.
In fact, her favorite part about this whole weekend is soaking in the friendship she has formed with her "padres," as she referred to her teammates in a postgame interview.
"We haven't all been together a long time at all," Fowles said. "But we click because we have team chemistry. Nobody has a big head, nobody thinks it's all about them. Everybody's just all about winning."
But in order to win, coach Geno Auriemma says that Fowles must increase her role from past international tournaments. She won gold in the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship, the 2008 Beijing Olympics and last fall at the UMMC Ekaterinburg International Invitational, but this is really her first time headlining for the U.S. national team. And the biggest question marks hover on the squad's post play.
The now-retired Lisa Leslie was an unstoppable center in international competition, leading Team USA to four Olympic gold medals (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008). In addition, Los Angeles Sparks center Candace Parker is out for the season with a shoulder injury and isn't expected back for September's World Championship in the Czech Republic.
"[Fowles] was the understudy in the last Olympics," Auriemma said. "Now she has to step up. This is their team now. The last two years they've been looking up at these other guys, but now they're going to have to carry the load."
Fowles had no problem carrying the load against the WNBA All-Stars, but she knows that following in Leslie's footsteps is a formidable task.
"It's a big role that I have to take on," Fowles acknowledged. "But I played under Lisa and when you have great teammates like Diana [Taurasi], you have no choice but to just go out there and compete."
Fowles showed her ability to stay in games and compete Saturday. After posting 10 points in the first quarter, she was held scoreless in the second. At halftime, Auriemma took her aside for some encouragement.
"We talked briefly about how you can't follow a bad play with another bad play," he said. "Just make a good play and then go down the floor and make another good play. I just always try to be positive with her. She's a nice kid, but sometimes she gets frustrated with herself."
Auriemma's speech worked, sparking Fowles' 13-point second-half performance and sealing her title as the brightest star at the Sun.
When asked if she thought that Team USA could bring this same dominant performance to the Czech Republic, Fowles had only one thought.
"I'm looking forward to bringing home the gold," she said. "Nothing less than that."
Kaitee Daley is an editor for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.