Heading into the 2016 Summer Games, that’s the presumptive theme behind the U.S. Women’s National Team’s biggest advantage. With Tina Charles, Brittney Griner, Sylvia Fowles and Breanna Stewart prowling the frontline, the possibilities are endless for such a unique roster.
“I think that’s the beauty of picking this team,” Fowles explained when asked about the U.S. Women’s National Team’s versatility. “From 1-12 on the bench, there’s no drop off between us. We just have to come out and play every day.”
Simple yet practical, right? In their first exhibition action against international competition, the U.S. Women’s National Team earned a convincing win over France’s National Team, 84-62. Charles led all scorers with 17 points, a familiar sight for the WNBA’s leading scorer (21.4 points per game). Charles’ veteran leadership and two-way excellence could be pivotal for the U.S. Women’s National Team. Her ability to switch defensive assignments along the perimeter only creates more nightmares for opponents already fearing Tamika Catchings, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, and Angel McCoughtry. What happens when good fortune sees you past that defensive swarm? You meet Fowles and Griner, who enjoy nothing more than locking down the paint.
Laughed Griner, “One thing I can always rely on, when I’m fumbling the ball or just not catching the ball, I can always rely on defense. I might not be able to score, but I’m gonna make sure you can’t score either. I love blocking shots more than dunking.”
The numbers validate the two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year’s appetite for blocks.
During her final nine games leading into the Olympic Break, Griner collected at least five blocks on six occasions, padding her league-best average of 3.0 per game. Opponents will see few glimmers of hope when Griner rests on the bench, seeing as Fowles averaged 2.9 blocks in her final 10 games before Olympic play. The 2016 WNBA campaign represents the Minnesota center’s sixth season recording at least 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steals. Moreover, Fowles anchors the Lynx’s defense, which allows a WNBA-low 40.8 percent shooting (tied with Charles’ Liberty), augmenting the U.S. Women’s National Team’s embarrassment of riches.
“I’m making sure I need to do what the team needs,” Fowles shared. “We have a lot of shooters on our team, people who can score. We got people who can do various things, but I think my job is on the defensive end.”
Protecting the paint encourages aggressive perimeter defense, creating opportunities to attack on fast breaks. Seven players rank top five in WNBA steals (Catchings, McCoughtry, Moore) or blocks (Griner, Fowles, Delle Donne), with head coach Geno Auriemma emphasizing attacking the rim.
Says Charles, “Playing for coach, he doesn’t have to tell me to run down the court hard. I know he’s in love with easy transition buckets and making sure we hit them first.”
“We’re all super big and super long, so it’s like pick your poison,” explained Griner about the team’s frontline. “You got Stewie, who can stretch out and shoot it. Me and Sylvia, two huge shot-blockers taking up all the paint, so it’s pretty cool. I love it.”
When mentioning Breanna Stewart, the WNBA’s rookie sensation, optimism knows no limits. She’s the only player in NCAA history with 400 blocks and 400 assists, heading into the Olympic break ranking fifth in WNBA scoring (19.2), with U.S. Women’s National Team teammates Charles, Delle Donne and Moore pacing ahead. Stewart’s offensive versatility includes an effortless three-point touch, court vision and a nose for the basket, with her defense best evidenced by the two-handed block heard around the world.
“I enjoy being on the floor with Breanna,” Fowles said. “When I can’t get the rebound, she’s got it. When I can’t run, she’s running. It makes my job much easier when we’re on the floor together. The chemistry is there.”
With Stewart, the U.S. Women’s National Team can do literally anything. She’s a budding defensive anchor, evidenced by her being the only WNBA player averaging at least 2.0 blocks and a steal per game. Against Delle Donne’s Sky, ‘Stewie’ flashed her all-around potential, finishing with 22 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and five blocks, going 3-7 from deep, an emphatic response to the 2015 MVP’s 35 points, 11 rebounds and game-winner.
The U.S. Women’s National Team might not require such an explosion from their rookie X-factor, but Stewart chipping in a bit of everything is almost inevitable, a common theme across such an accomplished frontline.
Says Griner about chemistry after defeating France in exhibition action: “Being together, getting to shootaround, going over stuff before games, starting to get chemistry going with more structure, if we can just keep playing like that, wearing teams down, things will go really good for us.”