Short-Handed U.S. Team a Major Force
NEW YORK, Aug. 5 (WNBA.com) --
In its final training game in the United States, the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team made relatively easy work of a team of WNBA All-Stars, winning 74-58 before a sellout crowd at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
Forward Tamika Catchings and center Lisa Leslie led a balanced attack for the United States team, Leslie poured in 15 points, Catchings finished with 12 and forward Tina Thompson netted 11 points. The U.S. pre-game goal of pounding the ball inside continued no matter who was on the floor as reserve center Yolanda Griffith also chipped in with 11 points.
While the game ended on a positive note of unity and support for the Olympic team heading to Athens, it started out with a very serious tone. The U.S. team tried out different rotations, ran set plays and bunkered down on defense. This was not your typical All-Star Game. The hustle was real, as were the fouls, the emotions and the occasional complaints to the WNBA referees.
Lisa Leslie, U.S.A.|
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE
Sun forward Nykesha Sales
opened the scoring, converting on a steal and taking it all the way for layup. The basket gave the WNBA All-Stars a brief lead that they would soon relinquish and never recover.
U.S. coach Van Chancellor tinkered with his lineup throughout the half, finding success just about everywhere he looked. After the team got out to a slow start, Chancellor called a timeout and calmed his team.
"I thought we needed to loosen up and I wanted to tell them to relax and enjoy it," Chancellor said. "We were up here and I thought we were trying to carry women’s basketball, trying too hard."
They responded. No matter which players he had on the court, whether it featured two point guards and two centers at once or four forwards and a guard, the U.S. quickly got out to a 20 point lead.
USA center Lisa Leslie tied the game up and gave the U.S. a permanent lead on free throws just one minute into game. Together with forward Tina Thompson, the U.S. National Team quickly extended its lead. Former UConn teammates Sue Bird and Swin Cash then stepped into their time machine and pulled out some old tricks. Cash set Bird up for an open 3-pointer, then the two hooked up for two consecutive transition baskets to give the National Team a double digit lead.
With five minutes to go in the half, and before WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer could call a timeout, Catchings hit another 3-pointer to give the U.S. a 33-14 lead. At that point, seven U.S. players had already scored compared to only three WNBA players.
"It’s our first exhibition game since the WNBA season ended and we’ll continue to get better," Leslie said. "We have a few days to go play against Spain and France. We have to take much better care of the ball and just continue to make that extra pass."
The U.S. Team, which played without veterans Sheryl Swoopes and Katie Smith, led the WNBA 39-20 at halftime. Smith did not playing due to a knee injury during the regular season while Swoopes has a slightly tweaked ankle. Both will be back for Athens.
With only one practice together as a team before the game, the WNBA All-Stars struggled offensively to get its timing down. As a team, the WNBA All-Stars shot 25.8% from the field, but most of their struggles resulted from a cohesive defensive effort for the Americans.
"Those WNBA players are good," Bird said. "Even though they’re a team that hasn’t played together, they’re athletic, they know how to play and they’re talented, so for us, it’s a really good send-off game, to get one in before heading overseas."
The pace picked up a bit in the second half, the U.S. maintained a 20-point lead. The WNBA All-Stars also got scoring from more players, but they could never chip away at the lead. With the outcome no longer in doubt, the players had a bit more fun and the game opened up a bit more. Some slick passing, sweet moves and fearless shooting. By the time the final buzzer sounded, every WNBA player had scored.
No matter which Olympian the WNBA defense focused on during a possession, one of her teammates was there to step up and drain a basket. The U.S. was too tough inside for the WNBA All-Stars and showed why they have been the best team in the world for the past decade. If they continue to improve in their time together, the U.S. Olympic Team could have another gold medal by the time the WNBA season starts up again in September.