LAS VEGAS (July 16, 2021) — There is no panic, just determination to improve.
That is the mindset of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team following a second-straight exhibition loss, a 70-67 setback to Australia on Friday at the Michelob ULTRA Arena at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Coming off a 93-85 loss to the WNBA All-Stars on Wednesday, the U.S. was hoping to get back on track with another day of practice. But the USA, which will be pursuing its seventh-straight gold medal when the Tokyo Olympic Games begin in a week, had 18 turnovers and shot 37.3% (25-67 FGs) overall and was just 2-of-18 from 3-point.
“We’re getting better,” said USA head coach Dawn Staley (South Carolina). “Obviously not in the win column, but some of the things that we did out there were remarkably better than Wednesday. We just got to clean up some things.”
Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm) led the U.S. with 17 points and 12 rebounds, including 10 points and four rebounds in the second quarter. A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces) was the only other American in double figures with 12 points, as all 11 players who saw action played at least 9 minutes, 51 seconds. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) did not play for the second-straight game due to a hip muscle strain.
“Just keep working through it, work through the adversity,” Stewart said of solving the shooting woes. “I think that we’re all capable of knocking down 3s, and it’s just a matter of them going in. And then I think, at the same time putting pressure on the paint, like getting to the paint, getting to the free throw line, because once you get in that downhill attack mode, everything else opens up a little bit more.”
Ezi Magbegor, who plays on the WNBA’s Seattle Storm with U.S. Olympians Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd, led Australia with 17 points. Australia played without star Liz Cambage, who took herself off the Olympic roster Thursday following an incident in a scrimmage against Nigeria earlier in the day. Cambage also plays for the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces.
Thanks to Stewart’s strong second quarter, the U.S. was up 41-28 at halftime. But Australia, which still has five WNBA players on its roster, turned up the pressure on the Americans, who turned the ball over 15 times in the second half.
“They made it hard for us to make entry passes, and they made us go to a different option in our offense, and I don’t think we handled that well in the third quarter,” Staley said. “Other than that, we handled it pretty good. It’s just that spurt — and that’s a spurt that we’ll always have to be ready to guard against in any game that we play. It can come at the end of the game, it can come to the third quarter, it could come in the first quarter. We are familiarizing ourselves where we have some weaknesses, and we will continue to correct them.”
The Aussies made 10-of-26 3-pointers, which emphasized the Americans’ shooting struggles, and especially from distance. Following an Australia turnover with 10.9 seconds left, Stewart had a chance to send the game to overtime, but her 3-pointer from the right wing was off the mark.
“At times, we got pretty good ball movement, and then at times we get a little stagnant,” Staley said. “And I think that is just from everybody playing their style of play and what they do for their respective (WNBA) teams. But ball flow and ball movement will help any team, and we definitely have to do that, especially when we’re being challenged in catching the ball. If you move it quick enough, I think you can shift the defense a little bit. And I do believe our shooting percentage will increase with every reversal that we can get.”
Among the things the U.S. did well against Australia was dominate the boards. The Americans held a 41-28 rebounding advantage.
“There were spurts where we looked really, really good, where we were clicking all cylinders, and there were spurts where it was just bad, on both ends,” said U.S. guard Chelsea Gray (Las Vegas Aces), who had six points and four rebounds in 17 minutes. “We have to take care of the ball a lot better, but we’re learning each other on the fly.”
The U.S. wraps up pre-Olympic play on Sunday, July 18 against Nigeria. The 2:30 p.m. ET game will be on the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.