In her first game played at Stanford University since Feb. 29, 2012, Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks) upped her all-time win-loss record at Maples Pavilion to 65-0 in leading the USA National Team (1-0) to a 95-80 victory over her alma mater on Saturday evening.
Tipping-off a four-game series against college teams, Ogwumike led the USA with 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting to go with 12 rebounds and four assists. A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces/South Carolina) was the USA’s other double-digit scorer with 22 points and six rebounds.
“I’m just glad to be back, even just being in this (press) room, it’s very nostalgic,” said Ogwumike. “I see a lot of familiar faces here. I’m really grateful to be able to represent Stanford and the USA in this game today.”
“It was probably everything we hoped it would be,” said USA National Team assistant coach Cheryl Reeve (Minnesota Lynx), standing in for USA and University of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley during the fall tour. “We spent a couple days here being around Tara (VanDerveer) and the team and just enjoying how hard they work. I know for Nneka, it’s very familiar to her, even though it’s been a number of years.”
Saturday’s contest was the first in over a year for Sue Bird (Seattle Storm/Connecticut) and Skylar Diggins-Smith (Dallas Wings/Notre Dame); while Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx/LSU), Layshia Clarendon (Connecticut Sun/California) and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury/Connecticut) played a combined 28 games in 2019.
“It felt good, it felt really good,” said Augustus, who tallied eight points on 4-of-5 shooting. “I felt way better than when I came back during the W season. I think everybody was nervous. I was nervous, Dee was nervous. We hadn’t played in a while. But it was exciting to get back on the floor and represent the USA.”
“It felt really good to be back out there after being out for so long,” agreed Bird. “It didn’t really occur to me until tonight that my last game was actually the (2018) World Cup final against Australia in Spain. And that was 13 months ago, which is a long time not playing games. It’s nice to get out there, it’s also nice to feel good and healthy.”
Stanford’s squad was pumped up from the start of the game and led 20-15 after a first quarter in which the USA shot just 27.0% from the field.
“Stanford came out and they were ready to play,” said Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx/LSU), who finished with nine points and five rebounds. “They came out strong and they were running out all over the place. But, it’s always good to have veterans like Sue and Diana. They get you to calm down and get you to just play your game”
Late in the second quarter, the red, white and blue got a layup from Ogwumike that pushed the USA ahead 36-35 and the team never again trailed. By halftime the USA’s lead had increased to 44-37.
Ahead 68-62 at the end of the third quarter, the USA pulled ahead by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter and closed out the night with the 15-point victory.
“It was nice to get the win,” stated Bird, who dished out eight of the USA’s 23 assists. “It was great playing against some college kids. We always expect them to throw the first punch because they’re always excited, and that’s what happened in the first quarter. But I was really proud of our team because we only had one practice and we made it work.”
With 1:16 remaining in the game, Ogwumike exited the contest to a rousing standing ovation from the Stanford fans.
By the end of the night the USA’s shooting heated up and the squad finished the game at 52.9%, while Stanford was held to 39.5% from the field. The U.S. outrebounded Stanford 48-31.
“Stanford’s really difficult to play against,” Reeve added. “We got exactly what we needed in terms of the game itself. Once we got through that first quarter, which was a bit of a challenge, we really settled in. A lot of things happened to us. And one of those really, really good things was Nneka Ogwumike.”
The USA will face Oregon State University on Nov. 4, Texas A&M University on Nov. 7 and the University of Oregon on Nov. 9 before traveling to Argentina for the FIBA Americas Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament.