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Preview: Team USA faces Nigeria in Friday FIBA World Cup quarterfinal matchup

With a trip to the semifinals on the line, the United States have their best chance yet to get a statement victory.

Brittney Griner returned to Team USA’s lineup in Tuesday’s group stage game against Latvia, scoring 15 points and grabbing 6 rebounds.
Photo by Catherine Steenkeste/NBAE via Getty Images

The United States open the quarterfinals with an early-morning game against Nigeria (or late-morning, if you’re lucky enough to be in Spain). If you’re planning on waking up early to watch, here’s what to look for.

Game info

When: Friday, Sept. 28 at 6:30 a.m. ET (replay on ESPNU at 2 p.m. ET)

Where: Tenerife, Spain (Santiago Martín Arena)

How to watch: ESPN3 (national streaming), (worldwide streaming with fee)

Rankings: Team USA is ranked first in the world. Nigeria is ranked 34th and made the World Cup by advancing to the championship in AfroBasket Women 2017, where they took home the title.

How they got here: The United States won Group D. Nigeria finished second in Group B and beat Greece in their quarterfinal qualification game.

Storylines to follow

Nigeria will be the lowest-ranked team that the United States has faced in this tournament, which any other year in recent memory would inspire much more confidence than it does now. But as Team USA hasn’t really been in the business of blowing out lower-ranked teams this week, there are concerns abound about how the United States will match up with the Nigerians.

Most notably is how well Nigeria has been playing so far. While Senegal became the first African team ever to win a FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup game by virtue of playing before Nigeria on Sunday, Nigeria has now won three straight games en route to living up to their AfroBasket Women 2017 title and advancing to the quarterfinals. Their one loss was in their opening game to a strong Australia team.

The United States welcomed back Brittney Griner from an ankle injury in Tuesday’s win over Latvia, while also resting Elena Delle Donne and Sue Bird. Seven players scored in double figures in that game, including Griner, but the Americans also allowed Latvia’s Anete Steinberga to score 30 points, half of which came from beyond the arc.

Nigeria’s Evelyn Akhator should give the United States the most trouble in this game, leading her team in scoring (14.5 points per game) and rebounding (10.3 rebounds per game), so the Americans would do well to ensure she isn’t able to run up the scoring and keep Nigeria in the game.

On paper, this should end up being a comfortable victory to send Team USA to the semifinals, especially considering the extra day of rest they received thanks to not having to play in a qualification game. But as we’ve learned in this tournament so far, it’s anyone’s guess which United States team will show up — and how long it will take to adjust to not just the opposing side, but each other as well.