In its first exhibition game of the USA Basketball Showcase presented by Verizon, the 2016 USA Basketball Women’s National Team earned an 88-84 win over the 2016 USA Select Team on Monday at the University of Southern California’s Galen Center.
The USA National Team, which begins its quest for a sixth consecutive Olympic gold medal next month, was led by 11 points apiece from Elena Delle Donne and Maya Moore. Reserves Angel McCoughtry andLindsay Whalen each scored nine points as part of a balanced scoring attack.
Natasha Howard paced the USA Select Team – a group of up-and-coming WNBA stars – with a game-high 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting off the bench. Jewell Loyd added 20 points and a game-high seven assists, while 2014 USA World Championship Team member Odyssey Sims recorded 17 points and six assists for the Select Team.
“I thought the way the Select Team played was really cool,” said head coach Geno Auriemma. “They played as if they play against these guys all the time, which they do. There wasn’t going to be any sense of intimidation of who they are, which is why we play these games. We need the challenges. We need to look at different combinations and figure out what works for us and what doesn’t.
“For us, in the two days we’ve been together, we did a lot of really good things and we’re going to get better and better every day. And for the future of USA Basketball, there were some unbelievably positive signs out there of what the next group could potentially look like. It was a good day, I think, all the way around.”
Trailing by 12 heading into the fourth quarter, the Select Team fought its way back into the game thanks to a major boost from Howard. The reserve forward scored 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the final frame, including a trio of 3-pointers in a two-minute span. Howard sparked a 17-3 run that gave the Select Team a 78-76 lead with 3:39 remaining.
The two sides went back and forth in the waning moments, but it was the National Team that scored the final six points of the game. National Team forward Breanna Stewart made three crucial baskets down the stretch, including the tying layup with a minute to go before Moore knocked down four clutch free throws to seal the victory.
“We are focused on the whole process, the whole journey, and this was just the first game,” said National Team guard Sue Bird. “We’ve only had a couple practices together, so it was really good to be challenged in that way by the Select Team. It really showed what we’re going to need to work on and the level that we have to play at moving forward.”
Stewart, Brittney Griner and Tina Charles finished with eight points apiece for the National Team. Select Team guard Tiffany Mitchell notched seven points on 5-for-5 at the foul line.
It was a scorching start for the Select Team, which led 10-4 in the opening minutes after sinking its first three shots and draining a trio of free throws. Loyd was the catalyst in the first quarter, scoring seven points on 3-of-4 shooting and dishing out three assists. Loyd knocked down a contested jumper to make it 19-8, which would be the largest lead of the night for the Select Team.
Diana Taurasi went on a personal 7-0 run late in the opening frame, including a 3-pointer and pair of free throws that helped the National Team pull within two. The Select Team led 22-17 after a quarter, paced by the seven points of Loyd and five from Sims.
Whalen and Delle Donne worked well together off the bench to start the second period, guiding the National Team on a 13-2 spurt. A McCoughtry 3-pointer completed the run and gave the National Team a 30-29 edge, its first of the game.
Delle Donne hit a pair of midrange jumpers late in the quarter, and Moore scored five straight points to help the National Team take a 43-40 lead into halftime. Loyd drained a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the period, finishing the half with 12 points. Taurasi paced the National Team with seven points in the opening half.
“When things weren’t going well, that could have easily been a game where if you don’t have a team that’s together, then it could have went south real quick,” Taurasi said. “But we found a way to pull it together. And I think that’s the one characteristic that our team has on day three that most teams don’t even get on year three.”
Sims was aggressive to start the second half, scoring on jump shots and getting to the foul line. However, after a baseline jumper by Bird made it 55-48 in favor of the National Team midway through the quarter, that lead was increased to double digits by the end of the period.
Griner, Whalen and Tamika Catchings all scored during a 7-0 run that resulted in a 67-55 advantage for the National Team entering the fourth.
Following Monday’s win, the National Team will continue preparation for the Olympic Games on Wednesday in a 7:30 p.m. ET matchup with France at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center. The game can be watched on NBA TV or via a live stream on the USA Basketball Facebook page.