Plenty of new faces played big minutes in Team USA’s FIBA World Cup opener.
SANTA CRUZ de TENERIFE, Spain – The first-time Team USA players made an instant impact in the Americans’ 87-67 win over Senegal to tip off the FIBA Women’s World Cup on Saturday. With a roster trimmed to 12 just about three days prior to the competition and consisting of five players with no World Cup or Olympic experience, the U.S. found 43 points off the bench in its victory.
A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Jewell Loyd, and Morgan Tuck all played between 15 and 21 minutes, and Layshia Clarendon, the point guard from the Connecticut Sun, finally entered the game with 5:20 remaining.
“I’m just trying to come off the bench and for there to not be a dropoff,” Wilson told High Post Hoops. Her15 points trailed only Elena Delle Donne (19) and Nneka Ogwumike (16) for the team high.
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U.S. coach Dawn Staley said that playing with the likes of Sue Bird, in her fifth World Cup, and Diana Taurasi — in her fourth — benefits the younger players, like the 22-year-old Wilson, who she just coached for four years at the University of South Carolina.
“When all of them came in, they’re doing an amazing level of play,” Staley said. “For each teammate they see on the floor. When all of them came in, they made an impact on the game, all of the newbies. All of the players that it’s their first time playing on this stage, I thought they played well, considering they don’t have much experience. The beautiful thing about our team is depth, and that is something we need to utilize this entire World Cup. Tonight, our depth allowed us to open this thing up and win the game.”
Being named to the senior national team is a dream come true for Plum, the career scoring leader in NCAA basketball.
“For us, we have to do whatever we can to relieve the starters and give players rest to be more efficient,” Plum said. “The better we play, helps them out. My goal is to take care of the ball and make sure we keep popping. It’s unbelievable (to be on the team), it’s an amazing feeling, and I feel very grateful.”
During the first quarter, Senegal hardly resembled the team that lost 121-56 to the U.S. and trailed 35-9 after one in the Rio Olympics. The African silver medalists, who are returning half of the team from 2016, found an eight-point lead and were only down by one after the first quarter on Saturday. The U.S. began pulling away in the second and went up 45-31 at halftime. The U.S. also defeated Senegal, 109-58, last week in an exhibition in France.
“I must congratulate my own team because we followed the plan,” Senegal coach Cheikh Sarr said. “We lost the game today because we gave up a lot of points in the paint (52-34). It was a good game, and we lost it in the second quarter. We had to go zone because my big players had too many fouls, so I had no choice. I think this is a good way to boost our confidence, and we can use it as motivation.”
The Americans’ next game of the group stage is with China, a 64-61 winner over Latvia earlier in the day, on Sunday. Senegal’s next opponent will be Latvia.