Rio de Janeiro — In a not-so-shocking turn of events, the U.S. women’s team swept another team off the court at the Youth Arena in Rio on Sunday, waltzing into the quarterfinals after burying China 105-62. They finished women's basketball group play undefeated and unchallenged.
You could see it in China Coach Thomas Maher’s weary pregame expression during warm-ups: we’re going to lose. It’s become a common understanding for many 2016 national women’s basketball teams who find themselves going up against the record-setting U.S. “Dream Team,” who have beat their opponents by an average of 42.5 points per game.
This time, it was 43 points, as Team USA put up over three digits for the fourth time in five games. China’s earnest effort on both ends was no match for the sheer depth of talent on Team USA’s bench, which saw action from virtually every player.
It was win-or-go-home for China, which certainly had its moments… A few miraculous 3-pointers here, some scrappy lay-ups there – especially in the second half when the U.S. players on the court became a little too content. But for the most part, it was a classic “David and Goliath” scenario – except, this time, David forgot his slingshot.
Here’s one small statistic to demonstrate just how inflammatory this old-fashioned beat-down really was: Not only were the Chinese held to a meager nine points in the first quarter alone, but Tina Charles single-handedly out-scored them to add to an early lead of 32-9. Ouch.
Team USA saw a dip on offense during Friday’s matchup against Canada, relying more heavily on solid defense to pull out the “W.” Their offensive game made a comeback versus China, however, in a downright deadly shootout – hitting 66% of shots, with 88% from the free throw line and 46% beyond the arc.
Maya Moore and Tina Charles tag-teamed to render China utterly – and literally – defenseless. Even without the WNBA’s reigning MVP Elena Delle Donne on the court (the blonde all-star got poked in the eye during warm-ups, oddly enough), the U.S. still managed to gracefully decimate their opponent.
Rio rookie Brittney Griner has established herself as Public Enemy #1 for most U.S. opponents thus far, and China might've suffered the most at the mercy of her (huge) hands and even bigger hops. Griner had a field day around the rim, swatting shots away and tossing the ball through the net as if she were playing pick-up ball at a local high school. With 18 points and 13 rebounds overall, she gave a beastly performance, to say the least.
However, it’s not solely skill that makes this 2016 U.S. team perhaps the most legendary in Olympic history; it’s synthesis. Observe any other team competing at Rio, and you won’t see this kind of dynamic connectivity. Sunday’s matchup versus China was an ideal showing of the remarkable chemistry that this year’s U.S. women’s team possesses – on the court, the bench and beyond.
Against China, the U.S. women’s fundamental athletic advantage was evident, but what was even more apparent about this win was Team USA’s undeniable spark – an intangible synergy that other national teams lack. Take a look at each team before, after, and during timeouts. On the U.S. end, high-fives and butt-slaps abound; the camaraderie is pervasive. This type of organic commonality is rare among most Olympic squads; it can’t be taught, nor practiced, nor faked.
Team USA isn’t simply a group of excellent players thrown together in pursuit of a shiny medal. This is a team. Take a look at ‘em dishing it off to each other with ease, and you’d think they grew up together playing hoops in the schoolyard. Seeing such an explosive offensive rhythm and player-to-player jive is a privilege. And best of all? They’re pals.
Geno Auriemma’s squad is redefining teamwork, one game at a time. What is teamwork? Take a look at Team USA. It’s the fond exchange of recognition from Charles to Moore (two of the world’s finest women’s basketball players) after a slow-mo worthy behind-the-back assist and lay-in; it’s a chest-bump from Griner to her fellow Olympic first-timer Breanna Stewart for a job well done with three minutes left to play.
It’s watching buds Tamika Catchings and Sue Bird take a break from competition mode to giggle on the Selaron Steps in Rio; it’s the consistent standing ovation from the bench not just after a dazzling Diana Taurasi three-pointer, but after any and every player makes a contribution – big or small; first or second string.
In a press conference on August 3, Olympic veteran Moore noted something special about this team in particular: “We do have the ability to make our own destiny.”
Teamwork makes the dream work, as they say… And Team USA is sure as hell proving it, one conquest at a time.
Next up? The U.S. will start off quarterfinal play on Tuesday against Japan.