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The Quest For A Sixth Straight Gold Begins Now

15 days.

That’s how long the U.S. Women’s National Team has before its opening game of the 2016 Olympic basketball tournament (Aug. 7 vs. Senegal), which begins the team’s pursuit of a sixth straight gold at the Olympics.

With such little time to prepare, the U.S. squad has to make every day count, starting with their first practice today in Los Angeles. With the WNBA schedule going all the way until Friday, eight of the 12 players on the roster had to play a game the previous night, travel to L.A. and get some rest before Saturday’s 6 p.m. practice.

“It’s right about that time now when all the planning and everything that we’ve done leading up to this the last two years, starting Saturday in Los Angeles, we get a chance to be with our entire team for the first time ever,” U.S. Olympic head coach Geno Auriemma said during a teleconference on Thursday.

All-Access: U.S. Olympic Women’s National Team Announcement

Half of Auriemma’s roster will be coming to L.A. via Minnesota as the Storm and Lynx face off Friday night in a game that features six players and one coach from the Olympic team – Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart from Seattle and Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, Sylvia Fowles and coach Cheryl Reeve from Minnesota.

GALLERY: Meet the U.S. Women’s National Team

“Having players who play together as teammates in the WNBA — I think we’ve got four in Minnesota, we’ve got two in Seattle, we’ve got two, I think, in Phoenix — that obviously really, really helps, helps a lot,” said Auriemma. “The fact that the majority of them played together at the World Championships, that helps a lot. And the majority of the team — I want to say maybe eight or nine — [was] in London. So there is a history of being together, which without that continuity, it would be very, very difficult.”

Auriemma understands that every player on this team has been in high-level competition in the WNBA for months and is dealing with the wear and tear on their bodies from their professional grind. So Auriemma and his staff have to find the right balance between allowing the players a bit of recovery time and cramming as much into these next two weeks as possible in order to prepare for Rio.

“We’re going to find a way, like we always do, of managing whatever it is that the players are dealing with, and I’m sure that everybody has got something that’s nagging,” he said. “But once they get with us and once the practices begin and once the games begin, all that has a habit of going away.”

There will be no rest for the weary as the team has a jam-packed schedule that spans the country over the next 10 days and includes five practices and four exhibition games before the team heads to Brazil. It all starts Saturday in Los Angeles. Auriemma and his staff have to take advantage of every minute that this team has together in order to teach strategy, establish roles, build chemistry and find the combinations of players that work best together on the court.

“Hopefully just reacquaint them with what we do,” Auriemma said of the goal for the short time they have together. “We’ve got a lot of stuff on film from London and from Istanbul and the World Championships. So there’s a lot I want to show them to kind of remind them this is who we are, this is what we do, this is how we do it, and they’re really good, they’re really smart. They’re professionals. It won’t take them long.

“But at the same time, I don’t want to stay the same and be stagnant. There’s some things I want to add. There’s some things I want to do a little bit differently, and we don’t have a lot of time to do it, obviously. I want to keep it fresh for them.”

There is no doubt that Team USA has the most talented roster in the field, but talent alone doesn’t win games. These 12 players have not been on the court together since the team’s last training sessions back in February. And at that point, the Olympic team had not been finalized, so the pool of players attending those practices was much larger.  Saturday is the first time this collection of players step on the court together as the team that will represent the United States in Rio. And they have just 15 days before the games count and the task of defending the gold medal begins.

All-Access: 2016 U.S. Women’s National Team Training Camp

“It’s a lot like a great orchestra, you know?” said Auriemma of bringing this collection of star talent together. “Everybody that’s playing their particular instrument may be the best in the world at that, but that doesn’t mean you get to do your own thing because then all of a sudden it’s not an orchestra anymore, it’s just a bunch of individuals trying to show how good they are.

“So everybody on this team, the reason they’re on this team is because they understand that, and they are really, really good at sizing up the situation and saying,, ‘Okay, what does this team need from me?’ Not like, ‘This is what I do on my team so this is what I’m going to do here.’ No. ‘What does this team need from me, and how do I complement everyone else?’ We’re very, very fortunate that the players that we have really, really think that, feel it, buy into it, and live it every day.”

Over the next 10 days, the team has four exhibition games – against elite competition – to test just how prepared they are for the Olympics. After a pair of practices on Saturday and Sunday, the Olympic team will face the USA Select Team – a collection of some of the top up-and-coming WNBA players – at the University of Southern California (10 PM ET, NBA TV).

“Ideally you could stay in one place and save on the travel and wear and tear and really get a lot of work done and play those games in one city,” said Auriemma. “But you know, we tried to go — everywhere we’re going, there’s a reason. There’s a reason for us to be in LA. The men are out there, and it’s a festival atmosphere, and there’s a lot going on off the court for us, as well.“

The game with the Select Team is followed by the 2016 USA Basketball Showcase presented by Verizon, during which Team USA will host Australia, Canada and France in a three-stop tournament from July 27-31 in Delaware, Connecticut and New York with all games televised on NBA TV.

2016 USA BASKETBALL EXHIBITION SCHEDULE

Date Opponent Location Time
July 25 Select Team USC 10 p.m. ET, NBA TV
July 27 France U. of Delaware 7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV
July 29 Canada Bridgeport, Conn. 7 p.m. ET, NBA TV
July 31 Australia New York, NY 4 p.m. ET, NBA TV

 

The U.S. opens the Showcase against France, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, on Wednesday, July 27 at 7:30 p.m. ET from the Bob Carpenter Center at the University of Delaware, where Team USA forward and reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne played her college ball.

“Delaware expressed an interest, and it’s going to be sold out, and you want to reward areas that really love the game, and you want to go to places that they appreciate the game,” said Auriemma.

From there, the team heads to New York for a practice on Thursday before facing Canada, the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship gold medalist, on Friday at 7:00 p.m. ET from Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut. With five of the 12 players on the team and the head coach hailing from nearby UConn, there should be plenty of familiar fans in the building to cheer on the American squad.

“And that’s certainly the case why we’re coming to Bridgeport. I think we have the best basketball fans in the country, the most knowledgeable and the most passionate,” said Auriemma.

The Showcase closes with a matchup of the two top-ranked teams in the world as Team USA takes on Australia Sunday at 4:00 p.m. ET from Madison Square Garden in New York, the home court of Liberty center and MVP candidate Tina Charles, who leads the league in both scoring and rebounding heading into the Olympic break.

“And we’re going to New York because it’s Madison Square Garden and it’s New York City” said Auriemma. “The people there are going to make sure that we get the kind of send-off that this team deserves.”

After wrapping up the showcase, the U.S. squad will head to Houston for Olympic Team processing as well as a final domestic practice on Tuesday, Aug. 2 before the team travels to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Team USA will enter the Olympic tournament as the heavy favorites to repeat as champions and win their sixth straight gold medal – and eighth overall. The U.S. enters the 2016 Games with a 58-3 record and a 41-game winning streak in Olympic competition.

In 15 days, they will tip off their first game of the preliminary round and officially begin their gold medal defense.

But the road to the medal stand in Rio starts in Los Angeles and four more cities across the U.S. in the next two weeks as the latest iteration of Team USA looks to continue the winning tradition established by the legends that preceded them in the red, white and blue.