After starting off slow, the USA Women’s National Team (1-0) found its stride and shooting eye one minute into the second quarter and marched on to earn a 76-61 victory over Brazil (0-1) Thursday evening in FIBA Pre-Olympic Qualifying play in Bahía Blanca, Argentina.
“Brazil sped us up a little bit to start the game,” said USA co-coach Dan Hughes (Seattle Storm). “We were kind of getting in our own way by turning the ball over a little bit. We really didn’t get a normal flow to start off. We did a much better job as the game went on of playing, seeing the defense and making the appropriate play, and our players really adjusted.
“The turnovers (22), we owned those a little bit, but you have got to give Brazil credit,” added Hughes. “(Damiris) Dantas was very, very good in the first half and really made us pay defensively.”
Sylvia Fowles(Minnesota Lynx/Louisiana State), who made 10-of-11 shots and secured six rebounds, and Chelsea Gray (Los Angeles Sparks/Duke), who drained 8-of-12 shots including 4-of-5 from 3-point, each accounted for 21 points, while Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks/Stanford) added 11 points.
“Our bigs did a great job of battling, running up and down the court and getting easy baskets,” said Gray. “There was a lot of post play where they were passing post to post when the defense collapsed, which I think is great. It was a great effort, great ‘D.’ Credit to Brazil, though. They were fighting hard against us and making us really work for it.”
Shooting an abysmal 5-of-17 from the floor in the first quarter, the USA trailed Brazil 15-10 when the horn ended the first stanza.
Brazil opened the second quarter with a basket to push its advantage to 17-10, and the USA finally amped-up its defense and started connecting on shots.
Behind eight points from Gray, who tallied 11 points in the second quarter, the USA outscored Brazil 14-3 to take a 24-20 lead with 4:52 to play in the first half, and at halftime, the USA held a 33-31 advantage. The Americans shot 75.0 percent in the second quarter, making 9-of-12 from the floor, including 4-of-4 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“Our team really competed in the second half,” said Hughes. “Our post players really played well with each other inside. Chelsea Gray was so essential in this game because she was a key playmaker in both halves. Then, you look inside at Sylvia (Fowles) and Nneka (Ogwumike) and especially in the second half they really had energy that we played to. And then, when it started getting close, we brought Sue Bird in, and that’s a pretty solidifying force to bring into the game.”
Leading 43-40 with 4:44 to play in quarter three, the USA got points from five different players and closed the period with an 11-3 run to take control 54-43.
Expanding its lead to 64-47 with 6:45 to play in the game, Brazil mounted one last charge, and following a 9-0 scoring spurt, closed the deficit to eight, 64-56 with 4:17 to play.
Napheesa Collier (Minnesota Lynx/Connecticut) ended Brazil’s surge with an old-fashioned three-point play with 3:55 remaining and the USA went on to earn the 76-61 win.
“It helped to have played Brazil last month at the AmeriCup,” said Fowles, who helped hold Brazil to just 22 points in the paint. “We wanted to take away all the things they did so well last month. So, coming in tonight I wanted to limit all their post play touches.”
The USA’s unselfish play, which resulted in 28 assists on 30 field goals and five non ‘and-one’ trips to the line, was led by Gray’s eight and Sue Bird’s (Seattle Storm/Connecticut) seven dimes.
The USA finished the night shooting 50.9 percent (30-59 FGs) overall and made 6-of-13 3-point tries. Brazil, which turned the ball over 26 times, shot a chilly 42.3 percent (22-52 FGs) and was just 6-of-18 from 3.
The 2019-20 USA National Team is now 10-1 overall, having compiled a 6-0 mark and the gold medal at the FIBA AmeriCup in September and a 3-1 record in its fall college exhibition schedule. The USA will continue FIBA Pre-Olympic Qualifying action against host Argentina (0-1) on Saturday (7 p.m. EST) and Colombia (1-0) on Sunday (4:30 p.m. EST). Colombia edged Argentina 67-63 in the night’s second game.
“What I remember about Argentina in the AmeriCup is that they are small but gritty,” stated Fowles. “They have a lot of fight, so we have to make sure we come out with energy right from the jump ball, being aggressive and playing the way USA Basketball normally plays.”