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"A 3-point shot is a 3-point shot at any level so you just have to relax and play within the flow of the game,” explains Candice Wiggins.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
TRENTON, September 16 -- With high intensity and physical play, the U.S. Women's Senior National Team knocked off Australia, 96-64 win, in the first of two exhibition games before the U.S. heads to Chile for the FIBA Americas tournament.
Of course, both teams lacked many star players, but the game was still an important proving ground for many of the younger U.S. players. The U.S. fielded a 10-woman squad while the defending 2006 World Champion Australian National Team was without Penny Taylor and Lauren Jackson. The game was played at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, New Jersey.
With a starting lineup consisting of Sue Bird, Seimone Augustus, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Kara Lawson and Candace Parker, the U.S. came out strong and built up an 18-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.
"We have been working on our intensity," American coach Anne Donovan said. "We have had short numbers of people so our intensity has been good since the beginning of camp."
The team look has also evolved a bit over the training camp period that began in New York about two weeks ago. Mystics guard Alana Beard is out with a shoulder injury and college standout Sylvia Fowles has since returned to school at L.S.U. But on a positive note, Comets All-Star forward Tina Thompson joined the group on Saturday. She came off the bench and posted a game-high 21 points on the night, including three 3-pointers. She obviously had no problem integrating with team and will be a leader and crucial component of the teams' offense.
"She was with us in the 2006 World Championships and she knows our system," Donovan said. "Right away with one day of practice, she fits right in."
Also impressing the coaching staff were some of the team's younger stars. Stanford junior Candice Wiggins came off the bench and drained three from 3-point land and finished with a total of 18 points in 21 minutes. Oklahoma center Courtney Paris showed her strength inside with 12 points while Parker demonstrated her overall versatility and came away with three steals on the night.
"We need them to come in everyday and work hard and compete and that is what they did," Monarchs guard Kara Lawson said. "Candice had a great game offensively and defensively. Courtney came in there and did a great job. She is hard to handle in there. Then, of course, Parker, who has a lot of experience as she played in Brazil with us last year. Those guys are going to be important for us as we move forward."
The youngsters were unfazed.
"You are playing with such great players but it is still the same game," Wiggins added . "A 3-point shot is a 3-point shot at any level so you just have to relax and play within the flow of the game."
Defense had been the focus in training camp thus far and the team's "D" was on par tonight as well. The U.S. forced 28 turnovers and held Australia to just 64 points. Players traditionally known for their offensive play buckled down and demonstrated toughness on the defensive end.
"Coach pulled me aside in the last practice and said, ' We know what you can do offensively but its more on the defensive side that we will need you to go up against big guards,' like Australia had today," Minnesota's Seimone Augustus said. "So that is mainly what I focused on today and I think I did a wonderful job."
The U.S. offensive strategy consisted mainly of pounding the ball inside. Australia could not handle the size, strength or depth that the United States had in the post.
"We are going for the high percentage shots and we know teams are going to focus on our inside players and once that happens we will open up on the perimeter a little more."
But one thing Donovan cannot be happy with was the inconsistent play down the stretch. With a 65-42 lead going in the fourth quarter, the U.S. appeared to let up. Giving up 22 points in the fourth quarter was disappointing and something that all of the players said they should not have allowed to happen. The Australians picked up momentum in a game that the U.S. has previously controlled.
"We started off well but we let up," Paris said afterwards. "And Coach stressed no matter what the score is we have to play hard."
Overall, it was a good start for the U.S. team, but there is still work to
be done. With a combination of youngsters and veterans, the National Team appears
to have good chemistry, tough defenders and multiple scoring options. And now
they will be getting another infusion of talent as the Phoenix Mercury wrapped
up the WNBA Finals in five games. Players from both the Shock and Mercury are
expected to join the team later this week.
Up next, the U.S. will match up for a second exhibition game against Australia at Mohegan Sun on Wednesday night.