Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- A vocal crowd gathered in the Youth Arena in Deodoro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to watch Team USA take on Canada, as the week of Preliminary rounds winds down. Team USA secured its 45th consecutive Olympic win, as they massively outscore second-ranked Canada of group B, 81-51.
But, it didn’t come without a fight
The game began with a stagnant start. Both teams struggled to find their rhythm to take off with the lead. The opening of the game was seen in the final score as for the first time this Olympics; the US did not break the century mark.
“They’re not going to let you [score] 100 points,” said USA head coach Geno Auriemma of Canada’s team. “We shot the ball lousy in the first half. We didn’t make a shot … we talked about that, needing other people to step up and make some shots … and we did.”
Like a train on an uphill track, Team USA fought and pushed. However, shooting at only 47% held the team back from picking up speed.
Lindsay Whalen could be heard from the sideline urging her teammates to “slow down on offense and pick up the pace on defense.”
Players’ adrenaline must have been running high, leading to ill-set shots and sloppy defensive plays. By the end of the first quarter, Team USA led only by two points, 18-16.
Thankfully, for Team USA, Whalen’s Minnesota Lynx teammate, Maya Moore would answer the point guard’s plea to make changes on the court.
“I’m just being aggressive, trying to find different ways I can impact the game,” said Moore. “Sometimes you just have to wait for that moment where things can go your way as far as the momentum.”
Moore set the pace that Team USA train needed to gain momentum and pick up speed. She scored four consecutive points, and then stole the ball from Canada to score on a fast-break play.
“We were just trying to communicate and use our athleticism and versatility to make some of their offense a little it harder to run,” said Moore.
Her incredible play didn’t stop there. Moore excelled for team USA, leading the team with eight rebounds and two steals throughout the game. She is known for how great she is on offense, but her defensive focus is always there. Multiple times during the game she was found to be the one hustling for the ball looking to gain another possession for Team USA.
She contributed to forcing 15 turnovers from Canada, and she scored 12 points in the first half, a third of the team’s points at that time.
“[Canada] is a very disciplined team with what they are trying to do on offense,” said Moore. “They cut a lot; they move a lot. So you have to constantly be on your toes.”
The first half ended with team USA increasing its lead to 14 points over Canada at 36-22.
Moore was the conductor for her team, setting up the USA to explode and leave Canada trailing in the dust during the second half.
And, Team USA did just that.
“I’m trying to be involved and active,” said Moore of motivating her teammates.
Diana Taurasi followed Moore’s lead scoring all four of the team’s three-pointers throughout the game for her 12 points.
Sue Bird was also a key player for Team USA with nine assists. She may not have scored, however, she always leaves the court doing “Sue Bird” things, dropping dimes to her teammates. Elena Delle Donne also had six rebounds off the bench, increasing the team’s likelihood of scoring second-chance points.
“Maya got it going in the second quarter, that was really big,” said Whalen. “[Canada’s] defense on our offense kind of put you in hard spots. So, they did really well.”
The third quarter ended with USA leading by 24 points, 60-36.
Team USA did not hold back in the final quarter of the game. Rather, they went full steam ahead.
Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles and Breanna Stewart all contributed offensively off the bench to seal USA’s 30-point win over Canada after leading by only two points following the first quarter.
“It’s a completely different (when you’re coming off the bench),” said Delle Donne. “You kind of have to get your rhythm a little bit which I think was the reason for my charge.”
Moore sparked the momentum for USA with incredible play across the board. It wasn’t just her scoring and rebounding that helped the US; she also dished out four assists.
“We have a tight-knit group, and we know in the locker room, what we want to work on, what we’re happy with, what the focus is all about,” said Delle Donne.
Her team followed suit to seal the deal as an Olympic powerhouse. Only one game of preliminary play remains before Team USA moves into Medal round contests next week.
Team USA will play China at 11:15 am EST on Sunday to conclude their preliminary schedule.