By USA Basketball via Sports Page Magazine
In an overall team effort that saw every member score by halftime, the 2015 USA Basketball Women’s National Team (3-0) raced out to a 32-6 lead at the end of the first quarter and earned an eventual 86-50 win over 2015-16 EuroCup pro team Dike Naples on Thursday night in Naples, Italy.
Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury) tied as the game’s high scorer with a team-high 15 points to go with three rebounds, a pair of blocked shots and two steals, Breanna Stewart (University of Connecticut) shot 6-of-9 from the field and finished with 12 points and three steals, Elena Delle Donne (Chicago Sky) contributed 11 points and five boards, Stefanie Dolson (Washington Mystics) scored 11 points on 4-of-5 from the floor, and Courtney Vandersloot (Chicago Sky) rounded out the USA’s top five scorers with eight points to go with a game-high three assists. Candice Dupree (Phoenix Mercury) grabbed a game-best nine caroms, while contributing six points and four steals.
“I thought that for about 30 minutes we played some really, really good basketball,” said USA National Team head coach Geno Auriemma, who utilized a new starting lineup tonight. “All-in-all, I’m glad that that second group (tonight’s starting five) got a chance to play a lot of minutes and contribute a lot. It was good for them to show what they can do when given an opportunity.”
“Being able to get them out there right from the beginning when it mattered was important. I thought they set a great tone in the first quarter. So for me, this is what this trip is all about. We want to give people an opportunity to make the team or to show us that they’re not quite ready yet. Sometimes when you’re bringing people off the bench, you’re not getting them in the right circumstances all the time. So, I thought today was good.”
Griner, who had nine points by the end of the first quarter, put the red, white and blue on the board first with a pair of free throws at 8:34. Naples got a bucket at 7:07, but Griner scored seven points to help fuel a 14-0 run that blew the game open, 16-2, at 4:32. Following a 4-2 spurt by the home team, the USA reeled off another 14-0 run to take a commanding 32-6 lead after 10 minutes of play.
Naples never threatened as the U.S. went up 55-16 at halftime and 77-36 at the end of the third period.
“We were working out the kinks a little bit,” said Stewart, who started against Naples after coming off the bench in the USA’s first two games. “We have a big game on Saturday, it’s our last game on this tour and we want to finish off strong. This is preparing us for that.
“Our group was trying to make sure we had the fluidity of our plays down and that kind of stuff,” continued Stewart. “There are certain sets that we want to make sure, if we have to use them, we know how to do so and are ready to do that. Eventually we figured it out.”
The Americans connected on a blistering 58.7 percent (37-63 FGs) from the field, including 42.9 percent (6-14 3pt FGs) from 3-point, while holding Naples to just 37.7 percent (20-53 FGs) field goal shooting and 33.3 percent (7-21 3pt FGs) from beyond the arc.
Gintare Pertonyte was the top scorer for Naples with 15 points.
Four-time USA Basketball gold medalist Cierra Burdick (Atlanta Dream), who played at the University of Tennessee, recently arrived in Naples and contributed three points and six rebounds.
For Delle Donne, the three days in Italy was a return to her roots and the reigning WNBA MVP was swarmed by fans in Rome and Naples asking for selfies and autographs.
“It’s amazing that just my last name alone brings so many fans,” she said after making her way through a throng of fans following the game. “It’s pretty incredible, the support that they had for me.”
The USA’s four-game European tour concludes with a game against 2015 EuroLeague champion USK Prague on Oct. 9 in Prague, Czech Republic. Not only did USK Prague win the EuroLeague title last spring, it recently defeated a Diana Taurasi-led UMMC Ekaterinburg squad 93-91 on Oct. 7 for the 2016 SuperCup title.
“It’s going to be a little bit weird (laughs),” said Danielle Robinson (San Antonio Stars), who helped lead USK to the EuroLeague crown last season and will remain in Prague with the club team after Saturday’s game. “I know they’re going to come out and play hard. That’s kind of our M.O., our coach prides herself on defense, and getting out and running on transition. I think it’ll be a good test for us, especially because we like to do the same thing. I think it’ll be a good game.”
“Obviously we’re getting ready to play one of the best teams in all of Europe, one that’s just coming off of a great win over a great team,” added Auriemma. “So, I’m sure they have a lot of confidence right now. And any chance you get to play the United States, I’m sure they’re going to be excited. It’s going to be a challenge for us, going into their country. It’s the last game of a long trip, so I’m looking forward to seeing what our team is made of. I think we’re going to play great. It’s going to be a great environment and it’s going to be a great game.”
Auriemma is being assisted through the 2016 Olympic Games by DePaul University’s Doug Bruno, the Minnesota Lynx’ Cheryl Reeve and University of South Carolina’s Dawn Staley. Reeve is coaching the Minnesota Lynx in the 2015 WNBA Finals and therefore is not with the team in Europe. University of Hartford head coach Jennifer Rizzotti is serving as a court coach during the USA’s European Tour.
The USA squad is using this tour as preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games, which will be held Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
USA Basketball Women’s National Team
U.S. Olympic women’s basketball teams have earned a record seven gold medals, one silver medal and one bronze medal, and are 58-3 all-time in Olympic competition. The 2016 U.S. team will enter Rio riding a 41-game Olympic winning streak that dates back to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics bronze medal game.
Since the inception of the 1995-96 USA Basketball Women’s National Team program, the USA National Team, in addition to its record five-straight Olympic gold medals, has captured four FIBA World Championship gold medals, one FIBA World Championship bronze medal and one FIBA Americas Championship gold medal, while compiling a remarkable 86-1 record for a .989 winning percentage in those events. Further, USA National Teams in exhibition contests since 1995 boast of a 186-15 record (.925 winning percentage).