On Saturday, Oregon became the second college team to beat the United States women’s basketball national team. You’re likely already aware that Team USA doesn’t lose often, and that it isn’t challenged often.
The win is a big deal and exciting for women’s basketball and fans and Oregon specially – High Post Hoops will have a story on that too. And Oregon’s win is likely exciting for other teams preparing to compete against Team USA for an Olympic gold medal.
The game was a reminder that the U.S. national team isn’t invincible, despite all they’ve accomplished in the last 20 years, and gave us a glimpse at what is going to be an exciting NCAA season – please mark nationally televised Oregon games on your calendar.
The U.S.’s expanded women’s basketball national team program, announced during WNBA All-Star weekend, is an opportunity to showcase the team on college campuses (the Oregon game was played in front of more than 11,000 fans) and promote the team ahead of Tokyo 2020, but also is a chance to gain team chemistry during a time when most players are overseas (WNBA offseason).
Cheryl Reeve told the game’s announcers before the game that the team wanted to be tested and for its weaknesses to be exposed. Some weaknesses were notable during the Texas A&M game, but the loss to Oregon revealed not only areas for the USA to work on but also a model for top teams to beat them (Australia, Spain and Canada.)
Let’s talk about the most notable issues Oregon exposed.
It’s not disrespectful to the legends to acknowledge that they still look rusty.
Diana Taurasi scored 17 points (three pointers and free throws, players still leave her wide open beyond the arc) and Sue Bird and Seimone Augustus each scored 8, so there’s no disputing the clutch factor and leadership they bring. But on defense, they each looked a step behind Chennedy Carter, Minyon Moore and Sabrina Ionescu, especially off the dribble.
There was a moment during the loss to Oregon in which Moore drove and drew a foul on Augustus that instantly reminded of this Canada move on Augustus during the WNBA playoffs.
Bird and Taurasi are looking to compete in their fifth Olympic games, as only Teresa Edwards has, and Augustus in her fourth. They’ve each earned the right to their positions being theirs to lose. But the question is do they still look rusty due to age, lack of WNBA playing time due to injury/surgery? Both?
Yes, they played multiple games in the last week with traveled included, but that’s something they have experience with in the WNBA season and will have to deal with during a major tournament like the Olympics. It’s hard to speculate the reason from outside of the locker room, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an issue. And their play in November 2019 may not be the same during May 2020.
And the United States is in a unique position to have an embarrassment of riches in each position. Diamond DeShields and Jordin Canada were stellar during the FIBA AmeriCup tournament and I even remarked then, that they could be next up behind Bird and Taurasi.
Also, what about Ionescu? She showed she was capable of playing against not only WNBA but also international talent, which benefits her as the projected No. 1 draft pick and has already opened up discussions about her on an Olympic roster. Does she follow the Breanna Stewart graduate-then-make-an-Olympic roster model? This comparison also feels apt due to Candace Parker being left off the roster in favor of Stewart and causing an uproar. Because if Ionescu joins, one legend likely doesn’t.
But back to the current USA player pool.
Games change when Sylvia Fowles is in foul trouble.
Similar to games in Puerto Rico, when the U.S. played Brazil and Paraguay, teams found a way to take the out the anchor of the Team USA defense and chief guarder of the paint. Fowles only played 16 minutes – and the game changed when she was out. Plus, there was no A’ja Wilson or Breanna Stewart, or Tina Charles or Stefanie Dolson like there was in Puerto Rico, to replace the missing size and defending. Brittney Griner was hurt during her team’s WNBA playoff game and is now playing overseas.
When the U.S. played Brazil, Fowles’ WNBA teammates Damiris Dantas expertly drew fouls on Fowles (I’m sorry I couldn’t avoid it) and Team USA. That’s something Liz Cambage (Australia) and Natalia Achonwa (Canada, if she returns to the national team) can take advantage of.
On Saturday, Oregon had two players – Ruthy Hebard (18 points and 11 rebounds) and Satou Sabally (25p/6r) – available to take advantage of the foul trouble.
It would be a shame not to recognize how efficient Nneka Ogwumike played, 19 points on 8-for-9 shooting, a team high, and 14 rebounds.
We’ll be paying attention to what frontcourt players will be physically ready or able to take time away from their overseas team to be brought back into camps later this year or in the new year.
Team USA has already qualified for the Olympics and will play again later this week, from Nov. 14-17, at the FIBA Americas Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
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