Recording 33 assists and 48 points off of its bench, the 2020 USA Basketball Women’s National Team (1-0, 15-1) defeated 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Serbia (0-1) 88-69 on Thursday night in Belgrade, Serbia.
“I feel like we’re going to get it rolling; we’re going to get it going,” said Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury/Baylor), who contributed 14 points and six rebounds. “This was a good opener right here – against Serbia, in Serbia. It was a good win, and this is going to help propel us in the Olympics.”
A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces/South Carolina) had 16 points and seven rebounds; Skylar Diggins-Smith (Dallas Wings/Notre Dame) finished with 15 points; and Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx/Louisiana State) rounded out the USA’s double-digit scorers with 10 points and six boards.
“I thought it was a great, total team effort,” said Diggins-Smith, who hit 4-of-5 from 3-point. “The atmosphere tonight was insane. The home crowd made it a tough environment.
“We shared the ball really well. We had 33 assists, so we got the ball moving, and we were able to play inside-out and that kind of opened it up. With us having the caliber of post players that we do, it opened things up for us on the perimeter. It was a great team win tonight. One down, two to go.”
“I was at the Olympics in 2016 when Serbia medaled,” USA co-coach Cheryl Reeve (Minnesota Lynx). “So, we saw them. We have such great respect for their physicality, how hard they play, their belief in what they’re doing. I have so much respect for coach Marina (Maljikovic). They’re going to be well prepared, and they’re going to play. If you don’t play well, you’re going to get beat.
“We had to play well and we had to really lock into the things we were trying to get done. We felt that we had an advantage in points in the paint, and we were really persistent in that area. We defended pretty well early but didn’t rebound well. Once we cleaned that up, we finished plays, we were able to play in transition, we executed our stuff. I thought we handled their pressure pretty well – that was a focal point for us as well.”
The game was the USA’s first in the second window of FIBA Olympic qualifying action. While the USA already is qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, along with host Japan, the remaining 10 teams in the women’s basketball field will be determined following this weekend’s FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament games.
The USA led 4-0 to start the game and 20-14 at the end of the first quarter.
The Americans pushed the lead to 14 points in the second quarter, 34-20, but Serbia cut the gap to single digits, 42-34, at halftime.
At the midway point, eight U.S. players had points, while Sue Bird (Seattle Storm/Connecticut) already had recorded seven of the USA’s 17 assists in the half. Serbia, however, was leading 21-19 on the boards, including eight offensive rebounds.
The USA outscored Serbia 28-13 in the third quarter and added another 12 assists in the period to lead 70-47 with 10 minutes to play.
“Playing in Europe, you get to know a lot of players really well, you get to know their tendencies,” said Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm/Notre Dame), who distributed eight assists. “It really helped us in scouting. We all had a good sense of what to do, how to defend them and I think we did a pretty good job.”
Loyd’s Seattle Storm teammate Bird also dished out eight assists.
In the fourth quarter, to the delight of the loud and partisan host crowd, Serbia outscored the USA 22-18 to bring the game to its 88-69 final score.
“It was electrifying,” added Griner. “The crowd came out, they were cheering and chanting against us. That’s the atmosphere you want to play in.”
The USA finished the night with 44 points in the paint, shot 50.0% from the field (32-64 FGs) and held Serbia to 35.7% shooting (25-70 FGs).
The USA continues FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament play against Mozambique (0-1) Jan. 8 and closes against Nigeria (1-0) on Jan. 9. Both games will tip at 2 p.m. EST and will stream on ESPN+.
“It feels good to be back here with USA,” concluded Griner. “Anytime I can put that jersey on, come out here and represent my country, it’s a feeling that’s hard to describe until you actually live it. It just feels good. I’m back in the groove.”
In the other side of the USA’s group, Nigeria defeated Mozambique 85-51.
In the group of four teams that were slated to play in China but were moved to Serbia, China (1-0) defeated Great Britain (0-1) 86-76 and Spain (1-0) downed South Korea (0-1) 83-46. In Belgium, Japan (1-0) beat Sweden (0-1) 75-54 and Canada (1-0) nipped Belgium (0-1) 61-56; and in France, the hosts (1-0) held off Australia (0-1) 72-63 and Puerto Rico (1-0) picked up a significant overtime victory over Brazil (0-1) 91-89. The win may have helped send the islanders into their first Olympic women’s basketball tournament.
The 2019-20 USA National Team’s 15-1 record includes tonight’s win over Serbia, a 6-0 mark and gold medal at the FIBA AmeriCup in Puerto Rico, a 3-0 record at the FIBA Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Argentina and a 5-1 slate in exhibition games against college teams.