Bridgeport, CT -- The United States Women's National team just completed their third exhibition game Friday night, but it is almost a game inside a game for this team that is loaded with some of the best players in the world. Before this U.S. team can worry about who they are playing, they have to make sure they themselves are playing to the best of their abilities.
The U.S. throttled Canada, 83-43, in Bridgeport, Conn. to remain unbeaten through three of their four exhibition games before heading to Rio for the 2016 Olympic games, but their two games prior did not go as smoothly.
Yes, the U.S. National Team still has not lost, but their opener against the Select Team came down to the wire. The National Team trailed by 12 heading into the fourth, and found themselves down by two in the final minute before squeaking out a four-point win.
Then the U.S. trailed after the first quarter, and only led by one-point at the half against France before pulling away in the second, 84-62. One of the biggest keys for the United States moving forward is time.
"We went in with the idea of we want to be better (Friday) than we were in the France game, and I thought we were," United States coach Geno Auriemma said. "I thought defensively we were about as good as we can be, given the short amount of work that we've done."
Auriemma went on to say he knows this group of players will always play hard and compete on every possession, which is what he says it will take to win the gold medal for the sixth consecutive time.
"In the first two games, I think the offense was a little bit behind and we really didn't get enough time to get together, so today was nice to see it work," United States guard Diana Taurasi said. "It takes being on the court again together to get that chemistry, and to know where the next person is, so (Friday) was good for us."
Another player agrees that the hot start against Canada on Friday, headlined by a 23-2 first half run spanning nine and a half minutes, was an important step forward.
"(It's rough offensively) just because we haven't played together," United States guard Sue Bird said. "So anytime we can get off to a good start it's always good for our team. It gets us going, maybe puts the other team on their heels, and (Friday) the good start got us steam rolling for sure."
While the offense seems to be back in focus and clicking on all cylinders just in time for this team to head to Rio, Angel McCoughtry says she believes in the old saying "defense wins championships," or in this case, wins gold medals.
"Nobody can stop us offensively," McCoughtry said. "We have to stop people on the defensive end if we want to win a gold medal because we know we can score every game. Even if we miss some outside shots we have great rebounders to grab the ball and put it back in, so I don't really worry about the offense with this team."
Those words from McCoughtry are music to Tamika Catchings' ears. Catchings, a four-time Olympian and five-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, understands just how important defense is to winning at the Olympic games.
How good this team can be defensively will stem from which players are on the court together at a given time. Trying to maximize the plethora of talent the United States has, again, takes time.
"I think just being able to get the chemistry (with one another), and that is something that (Auriemma) is trying to figure out," Catchings said. "We had three different starting lineups (so far), and I think going into Rio we'll try to have something stationary so when this group is in this is what we're going to do: we're going to score and defensively were going to jump on them from the beginning."
The rotations will begin to make themselves, soon becoming clear which players play with each other. Elena Delle Donne says whatever her role, it is about putting the team first in order to accomplish their goals.
"That is what this team is all about and that's why this team was formed," Delle Donne said. "It's a bunch of unselfish players that want to win a gold medal and will do anything possible for the team in order to get that."