NEW YORK, Aug. 5 -- Following a game billed as an entertaining exhibition matchup for WNBA fans, USA Basketball coach Van Chancellor came away with lessons learned, mandates for his squad as it heads into the more serious competition awaiting it in Athens.
Griffith and Team USA were able to exploit their size advantage in the paint.
"I thought our defense was excellent ... championship-caliber," Chancellor said after the U.S. team trounced the WNBA All-Stars 74-58. "Offensively, we have to work and we have to cut this rotation down."
Besides Katie Smith and Sheryl Swoopes, who didn't play due to injuries, every one of the U.S. players got at least 13 minutes of court time, both in the interests of putting on a good show and so that the coach could continue to evaluate his talent. Chancellor's observations told him the team needs more time and more practice.
"We have 20 days to get ready," he stated. "We’re going to practice and play and get ready for the games. All we need is some time. Time together, time to play, trying to get us healthy."
It wasn't apparent from the play of MVP Yolanda Griffith, who came off the bench to dominate the paint. Posting 11 points and 15 rebounds in just 18 minutes was remarkable in itself, but the fact that 11 of her boards came off the offensive glass verged on astonishing. Continually outworking the shorter Natalie Williams and Cheryl Ford inside, Griffith was the also the primary reason the U.S. scored 32 second-chance points compared to the All-Stars' nine.
All-Stars guard Becky Hammon said simply, "Yolanda was a beast on the boards."
Yet Griffith was just one of three different U.S. team members to record double-doubles -- Lisa Leslie finished with 15 points and 12 boards, while Tamika Catchings put up 12 and 11 as the trio carried the Olympians to a 62-30 advantage on the glass.
Those were the positives. Unfortunately, the Olympic team also coughed the ball up 28 times -- 21 by the starting five -- but recorded only 17 assists. Tina Thompson, Lisa Leslie and Dawn Staley led the way with five turnovers apiece.
"We set a record for turnovers in a single game I think," Chancellor joked. "There wasn't a pass that they didn't want to turn over."
"Playing like we played tonight and having those kinds of turnovers won’t win a gold medal."
Whole New Ballgame
While a size advantage inside and terrific team defense did help the Olympic team hold the All-Stars to meager field goal shooting, there was another factor as well -- a bigger basketball. In the WNBA, the ball's maximum circumference is 29 inches; in international play, 78 centimeters, or 30.7 inches. To help the Olympians prepare, the teams agreed to go with the larger size.
"They got us on the big ball," said Hammon. "They got us right there. We go in and shoot for 20 minutes the day before the game and don’t have a shootaround today, you’re not going to shoot that ball well."
Neither team was particularly efficient from the floor. The U.S. squad shot 30-of-80 (.375) overall and 5-of-19 (.263) from 3-point range, but the All-Stars had even more trouble, hitting 21-of-72 (.292) field goals and just a single 3-pointer in 20 attempts (.005).
"I think the big ball [was a factor]," stated All-Stars coach Bill Laimbeer. "Make no mistake, that’s a very big factor not only for us, but for them, too. They only have X amount of time – two weeks – to get used to playing with the heavier ball on the perimeter shots."
Whale of a Time
Connecticut Sun guard Lindsay Whalen
, the lone rookie on the All-Star team, had a bit of a rough initiation when she entered the game in the first half, turning the ball over three times in her first minute of play. During an ensuing timeout, Laimbeer even asked her, "Are you nervous?"
In the second half, after the game had long been decided, Whalen again drew her coach's attention -- as the only All-Star who hadn't yet scored.
"Need a bucket, Lindsay!" Laimbeer called from the bench.
A short time later, Whalen finally converted on a back-door layup through traffic. She went on to add another field goal and two free throws to finish the night with six points and two assists, outplaying her rookie counterpart on the U.S. team as Diana Taurasi failed to score on 0-of-4 shooting.
"It was cool to be there, cool to play with all those players," said Whalen. "They are a great team. I wish them the best of luck in trying to win a gold medal over there."