Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — Coming off of an incendiary 3-game winning streak, the record-breaking U.S. women’s basketball team met its toughest rival yet on Friday – its undefeated neighbors from the North.
What seemed like a tight matchup reeled in U.S. favor, as Canada’s early spark ultimately fizzled against Team USA’s dynamite guard offense. After leading by only two points at the end of the first quarter, Team USA used its depth to muscle its way to an 81-51 victory.
Coach Geno Auriemma attributed the win to his team's uncommonly talented depth: "That’s what separates us, our depth, our quality of depth. It’s not just that we have a lot of players, we have great players coming off the bench," Auriemma said.
Team Canada came out strong in the first quarter, holding its own against Team USA’s tight defense, and was down by just two points entering the second quarter. Team USA turned up the heat in the second quarter, however. A quick steal and lay-in by Lindsay Whalen took the U.S. lead to 22-17 with just over seven minutes left in the half.
Nirra Fields was a crucial asset for Canada, fighting for her team to stay afloat with a scrappy layup and-one 3-point play 40 seconds before the half.
Canada’s defense was no match for the shooting finesse of Maya Moore, who led her team with 12 points in the first two-quarters, pulling the U.S. ahead 30-19 with a signature fast-break lay-in just two minutes before halftime. Diana Taurasi gave yet another legendary performance, clinching a 14-point USA lead entering the second half with staggering back-to-back 3-pointers.
Griner asserted herself on defense with three blocks and six points overall. Team USA forced 15 turnovers in the first half alone, stifling Canada’s offensive morale entering the second half.
Tight defense and missed shots on both sides rendered a low-scoring first half for both teams.
Gene Auriemma demanded better offense from his team at the end of the first half, and they listened. Taurasi continued to dominate beyond the arc, nailing her fourth 3-pointer to bring Team USA up 45-27 before tip-toeing into foul trouble with less than six minutes left in the third quarter.
Reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne soared into the second half after spending most of the first half on the bench, inflating USA’s lead to 24 points with just under a minute left in the third quarter. Tamara Tathum gave a solid effort for Canada, putting up a couple of 3-pointers in the second half. However, it wasn’t enough.
Not one Canadian player put up more than four points in the first half, and Team USA’s defensive aggression held Canada to 27% shooting overall.
"I think people fall in love with points at times, but it’s our defense that’s been the most consistent," Sue Bird noted. "Tonight was a good example of that."
Sylvia Fowles made her mark in the last lap, finishing a dazzling lay-in and-one with 6:30 left in the game to take USA’s lead to 67-42. Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart collaborated with a patriotic lob-pass and lay-in to open up a 34-point lead for the US with just over three minutes left to play.
Miranda Ayim shined down the stretch, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers with a little over one minute left in the game. It was too little too late for Team Canada, however, whose undefeated record was buried by a 30-point deficit to the U.S. at the buzzer.
Breanna Stewart had some choice words for her team's naysayers. "The people who say we are bad for women’s basketball aren’t watching women’s basketball," Stewart said. "We’re setting the bar; we’re setting the expectations really high and everyone else needs to get better and get to that level."
The US women’s “dream team” will press on to face China on Sunday – one step closer to claiming a sixth straight gold medal for the red-white-and-blue.