LOS ANGELES, CA — In its first game together, the USA Basketball Women's National Team defeated the USA Select Team in the 2016 USA Basketball Showcase. The victory, however, did not come without a fight.
The first quarter belonged to Jewell Lloyd and her USA Select Team. They remained ahead of the USA National Team, and finished on top, 22-17. Lloyd led the efforts with seven points, followed by Odyssey Sims' five points.
"I think the way the USA Select Team played was really cool," Head Coach Geno Auriemma said. "They played as if they play against these guys all the time, which they do. There wasn't going to be any sense of intimidation, which is why we play these games. We need the challenges."
For the USA National Team, four-time Olympian Diana Taurasi ran the court, also finishing with seven points.
Auriemma started Taurasi, Maya Moore, Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird.
For USA Select Team, Lloyd started along with Elizabeth Williams, Kelsey Bone, Odyssey Sims and Tiffany Mitchell.
Auriemma made several adjustments on the floor throughout the quarter, evidencing his statements yesterday about figuring out early the puzzle of the perfect five-woman combination.
"The fact that we're veterans, for the most part, allows us that whichever direction we go, we're putting people out there that know the way to go," he said. "What's going to be a little challenging for me and my coaching staff is incorporating the newer players who have a lot of talent...and finding out what combinations work best."
The USA National Team began closing the gap late in the second quarter when Auriemma put first-timers, Elena Delle Donne and Breanna Stewart, in with veterans Lindsay Whalen and Tamika Catchings into the combination on the floor.
The National team took the lead for the first time at the end of the half to finish off in front, 43-40.
The USA National Team found its rhythm, raising its field goal shooting percentage by 23 percent in the second quarter. No National player surpassed Taurasi's seven points. The scoring effort was spread throughout the entire roster, with notable contributions from Delle Donne at six points and Moore and Angel McCoughtry, at five points apiece.
"Today we probably did some things that we won't do in a regular game when it actually means something. But you have to do some things to see how they will react in those situations," Auriemma said. "You almost have to create situations before they even happen. I thought everybody responded very well."
While Lloyd's push remained consistent, the USA National Team took its largest lead of the game during the third quarter at 12 points ahead.
Whalen emerged as the leading scorer for the USA National Team, closing out the quarter with nine points.
The USA Select Team's 5-0 run midway through the fourth quarter, led by Natasha Howard's six points, brought them back in the game. Aerial Powers blocked Whalen's jumper, which resulted in a Lloyd field goal, and the Select Team regained its lead, 77-76 with less than four minutes of play.
The remaining minutes of the game saw back-and-forth action. At a little over the one-minute mark, Howard earned two from the line to bring the score to 84-82, USA Select Team.
Stewart answered with a basket for the National Team to tie it up with 40 seconds to go. Moore then went to the line twice in a row, and notched four more for her team to solidify the USA National Team's victory, 88-84.
"I feel like today was just the tip of the mountain for this team," Taurasi said. "We're going to get a lot better in a lot of areas, and it was good to go out there and play a competitive game where you have to look up, and you have to make plays at the end of games, and it kind of solidifies who you need to be as a team.
"We know that in close games we can make some plays to win it. Those are the positives that we'll take from it."
Moving forward, Auriemma identified key areas where his team needs to improve, including dominating more in the lane.
"Our post players have to get better. We need to score more in the lane," he said. "Our guards can make shots, I'm not worried about that, but our big guys are going to really have to be a force. I don't know if they were today consistently, but they need to become that.
"We really want to win the next three games, but at the same time, we need to find out before we get on that plane to go to Rio, what do we have?" he said. "I know who we have, but we got to find out what we have, what we can count on, what's our strength and what are the things that we are going to build to sustain us down there, and that's what these next three games are going to be all about."
One of the biggest strengths that Taurasi noted was the team's chemistry.
"You have a lot of good people in that locker room," Taurasi said. "You know everyone is moving toward that same goal. When you have that sort of synergy, you feel good going on the court.
"Today at times when things weren't going well, it could have easily been a game, when you don't have a team that's together, that could've gone south really quick," she said. "But we found a way to pull it together, and that's the one characteristic that our team has on day three that most teams don't even get until year three."
The next stop of the USA Basketball Showcase tour for the USA National Team is Wednesday in Newark, Del., as the team takes on the French National Team. It will play two more exhibitions games before its first game in Rio on Aug. 7 against Senegal.