By Cheryl Coward and Lee Michaelson
RIO DE JANEIRO – The U.S. continued its march towards the medal round of the Rio Games with yet another rout, beating Canada 81-51. The wins keeps the U.S. solidly on top of Group B at 4-0 while Canada fell to 3-1.
While the victors won by a 30-point margin, the road was not easy as Canada came out strong, earning an early three-point lead.
“They are a disciplined team with what they are trying to do on offense,” said Maya Moore about Canada. “They cut a lot, they move a lot. So, you have to constantly be on your toes. They have players who can do several things, move the ball, drive, get fouled. We had our hands full when we were playing them in the half court. We were just trying to communicate and use our athleticism and our versatility to make some of their offense a little bit harder to run.”
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The Canadian advantage was short-lived as the U.S. used a balanced effort to close out the quarter on a run and finish with an 18-16 lead.
Starting the second quarter with an 8-0 run, it was business as usual for the U.S. After a steal by Moore with 1:40 left in the quarter, the U.S. had a double-digit lead. Canada was limited to just six points due to the tenacious defense of the U.S. in the second period.
“I think we played really hard today on defense,” said Sue Bird. “I think people fall in love with points at times, but it’s our defense that’s been the most consistent. Tonight was a good example of that. It wasn’t that we couldn’t score, we weren’t scoring at the rate that you saw the first three games. It was our defense that was there for us to rely on. And it’s not easy. Especially against a team like Canada. They make you work. We worked hard.”
Canada’s Nirra Fields addressed the second period lapse.
“They’re the best team in the world, so obviously keeping it tight in the first half is not enough. We have to be able to sustain that throughout the whole game. We weren’t able to do that throughout the second half. We just need more intensity. That intensity has to be brought throughout the whole game. And we can’t give them easy stuff. We can’t allow them to make shots without contested hands in their face. We can’t give them anything easy, that’s how they build runs.”
At the half, Canada trailed 36-22.
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During the third quarter, the game began to look out of reach for the Canadians as the U.S. outscored their opponent 24-14.
Nearly every player on the U.S. team scored. Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi had 12 points each. Moore also contributed eight rebounds. Tina Charles finished with 10 points and five rebounds. Elena Delle Donne added nine points and six rebounds.
So far, Taurasi has made 18 3-pointers and now owns the U.S.’s single Olympic competition record for made threes, breaking the former record of 15 set in 1996 by Ruthie Bolton and tied by Taurasi in 2012.
Canada also had balanced scoring with nearly every player putting up points. No player was in double digits. Miranda Ayim paced her team with eight points. Nirra Fields added seven points.
The U.S. has its final preliminary round game against China on Sunday. Canada’s last game in the preliminary round is the same day against Spain (3-1). Both the U.S. and Canada have qualified for the knockout round that starts Tuesday.
Other Friday Results
The group phase ends August 14. Teams rest on Monday, August 15. The quarterfinals begin August 16. The top four finishing teams from each preliminary round group advance to the quarterfinals on Aug. 16. The semifinals will be played on Aug. 18, and the finals are on Aug. 20.
On her expectations for Canada’s performance in the rest of the tournament:
“Just to keep getting better. Our teams continues to really build in offense and defense. And just building the chemistry throughout the team. With every game we’re trying to get a little bit better, so when we get to the final game we’re on our best.”
On Tamika Catchings, her teammate on the Indiana Fever:
“I look up to her. I’m glad that I’m on her team for most of the year. But she’s a true competitor and I know she really drives her team, it doesn’t matter if it’s on the bench or if it’s on the court. You know how passionate she plays.”
On whether she talked to Catchings about coming to Rio de Janeiro on opposite sides of the court:
“We joked about it. We even did some Indiana Fever interviews about it. It’s all fun and games. She’s really proud to represent the USA and I’m more proud to represent Canada. We go back and forth about that.”
“We’re going to take some of the things from today (against USA). They run a couple of similar offences to the USA so it was great practice today. We had an exhibition game (against Spain) before we started the official (Olympic) Games. That was just to get our feet wet and try to see how they’re playing.
“They have some great shooters on their team and they’re a passionate team. So we have to make sure that from the get go we’re playing great defense.”
USA head coach Geno Auriemma
On the low-scoring first half and game:
They’re not going to let you 100 points. They’re holding teams to like 38 percent shooting and we shot 57 percent. Some teams, their style of play isn’t necessarily going to allow that. They maximize every shot clock opportunity. They’re going to run their offense over and over again, and they’re disciplined, smart and tough, and defensively they’re really physical. We shot the ball lousy in the first half. We didn’t make a shot … Dee didn’t make a shot, and we talked about that, needing other people to step up and make some shots other than her. And we did.
On the depth of the team and figuring out when and who to sub in and out:
The wrong move that I make is when I pick somebody else that, someone else thinks they should go in. And they (give me a look), and they all deserve to play. Anytime you make a substitution, somebody’s got to come out. I think they l love the fact that they only have to play 20-something minutes instead of the 35 that they have to on their own team back home, so they love that part of it because they’re always fresh. I’m so fortunate, because that’s the advantage that we have with U.S. teams. Everybody’s starting five is really good at this tournament, everybody. There isn’t a team that has a bad starting five. The advantage that we’ve had over the years is our six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12. They’re at another level than our competition, and 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.
What’s it like coaching against Canada’s Kia Nurse, who you coach at Connecticut?
She’s going to do what she does. For such a young player, what an experience. You haven’t even started your junior year in college, and you’re playing in the Olympics against players she probably watched growing up. I think she’s done an amazing job. She’s fun to coach. There were a bunch of times this year when she’d do something goofy – throw the ball away, commit a dumb foul or do something and I (joke to her), “I can’t wait until we play you guys in the Olympics.” And she’ll just roll her eyes. She’s one of the toughest competitors I’ve ever been around. That kid is tough, physically tough. She’s just an unbelievable kid.
On the USA’s defense, which allowed just one Canada field goal in the second quarter:
To me, if you’re on this team, it’s because somebody decided that you should be on this team. And it’s usually based on how many points you score on your team. When you recruit kids coming out of high school, none of them ever say, “You know, I want to come to UConn because I want to be the defensive player of the year.” Yeah, right (laughs). It’s because you want to score 1,000 points. So, if you’re placed on this team, it’s because you understand that the game is played on both ends of the floor. The only thing we have to do is make sure that we’re in the right defenses, and not get too complicated, not get too tricky, do things that don’t take a lot of time. So, it’s just basic, really elementary kind of stuff. We tweak it each game a little bit here and there, and the rest is, how bad do they want to play? Because, the beauty of having 12 players like this is you say, “Look, here’s the deal: if you play defense, if you play hard,” and it’s the first thing I said the first day of practice, “you’ll all get minutes.” Obviously, that’s why you’re on the team. But how many minutes and the quality of minutes is going to depend on how hard you play on the defensive end. And they all want to play.
On the team’s chemistry:
Finding chemistry is hard when you haven’t been together a lot. And because we play a lot of players, it’s hard to maintain that chemistry. If we only played six players, it would be easy. But when you’re trying to play 12 players every night, it gets disjointed a lot of times. So, we want to find the rhythm and I think we have done that. We want to get an idea of where our points are coming from, and we’ve kind of done that, and we want to mix and match line-ups and then at the end say, “This one really works. This one, not so much.” I think obviously we’ve been taking care of all those things.
On the USA’s defense against Canada:
I think we played really hard today on defense. I think people fall in love with points at times, but it’s our defense that’s been the most consistent. Tonight was a good example of that. It wasn’t that we couldn’t score, we weren’t scoring at the rate that you saw the first three games. It was our defense that was there for us to rely on. And it’s not easy. Especially against a team like Canada. They make you work. We worked hard.
On holding Canada to one basket in the second quarter:
I think what’s most impressive is that you have a group of women who, every single one of us is the best, the second best, the third best player on their team in the WNBA. Every single one of us have been all-stars, some of us have been MVPs, the best players on their teams in the world, over here and over there, and yet we were probably playing harder than any team in the tournament right now. I think that says a lot about us as individuals and us as a group. Because that’s what that was, that was effort. It’s not necessarily … part of it is chemistry, but it’s not necessarily a chemistry thing, it was an effort thing.
Elena Delle Donne
Geno talked about how It’s good no one has to play 35 minutes per game but everyone still wants to play. How do you handle that?
That’s what happens when you’re playing on such a great team with amazing players. You look left and right and there’s the world’s greatest players right next to you. It’s an adjustment for sure but we do know we have so much strength coming off the bench. A lot of teams will have a great starting five but they don’t have nearly the deep bench that we have. We know what a strength it is and we have to be able to come out strong every single time.
Is it a different mindset coming off the bench?
It’s a completely different mindset because you know when you start you’re coming right out from warmups and you’re warm. When you’re on the bench, you kind of have to get your rhythm a little bit which I think was the reason for my charge. Instead of taking a 3 that I probably would have taken any other day, I wanted to get to the rim which wasn’t a smart decision. I need to take my regular shots and be confident.
How do you think opponents can handle that wave of talent the US brings?
I don’t know. That’s what I hope is one of our really great strengths. Because that’s tiring, you have to go against our incredible starting five and then when they need a little bit of rest, we come on and try to take that intensity to the next level as well. It’s tiring for any team to have to deal with. So I’m hoping that will be a strength.
Sometimes people say you win by too much and others, they wonder what’s wrong when the game is close, it seems you guys can’t win?
That’s why it’s so important that 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. You can’t always make everyone happy. It’s so funny because in other sports, the dominance of a Michael Phelps is so celebrated but us, people want to hate on us and say we’re killing the sport.
What is it about Canada that puts them in position to be able to give you more of a game?
They definitely have more size and more size on the wings as well where they are able to get a little bit physical. Offensively, they have a great offense that they try to get into … constant movement. It’s difficult to guard and if you don’t communicate, they are going to get you on a backdoor layup or an open 3. So that’s something we really had to focus on.
When you have so many blowouts, do you get chomping at the bit for a good game?
I feel like we are chomping at the bit for the next game. Every game that comes up, there is something that we’re focusing on and we’re just always trying to improve. I think the biggest thing is to continue to challenge ourselves and work on the little things that are going to come up in those medal games.
They are a disciplined team with what they are trying to do on offense. They cut a lot, they move a lot. So you have to constantly be on your toes. They have players who can do several things, move the ball, drive, get fouled. We had our hands full when we were playing them in the half court. We were just trying to communicate and use our athleticism and our versatility to make some of their offense a little bit harder to run.
Was there a sense at the end of the first half you decided you were going to take over?
I’m just being aggressive, trying to find different ways I can impact the game. I try to do that on both sides of the ball, whether that’s just being aggressive trying to get a deflection or a steal defensively or using my gifts on offense, whether that’s scoring the ball, finding a teammate or setting a screen. I’m also trying to be involved and active. Sometimes you just have to wait for that moment where things can go your way as far as the momentum.
Geno talked about how It’s good no one has to play 35 minutes per game but everyone still wants to play. How do you handle that?
There is a balance. There is a combination of appreciating everybody that you’re playing with. You can do more in a short amount of time. That’s always a great thing. At the same time, you want to be on the floor. You want to be a part of the action. We have fun with it though. It’s not anything where we’re super serious where we’re truly mad because Coach didn’t put me in. It’s a great place to be in … that you can have so many weapons but every weapon is eager to be a weapon on the court.
What have been your highlights of your time in Rio?
My time in Rio has been great. Yesterday we were able to go see Christ the Redeemer which really cool. To be able to take the train up and see a whole view of the city. It was really beautiful. I saw one of the man-made Wonders of the World.
Any other highlights since you’ve been here?
I went to beach volleyball in Copacabana with a few of us, with Sue and Dee and some other people from USA Basketball staff.
Is there a particular indoctrination or baptism that the three rookies have undergone?
No. I think we’re newcomers for the national team but not for USA Basketball. For me, growing up playing it, I know what it’s all about. I know what we expect from one another and what we’re trying to do and how important it is to represent your country.
How can an opponent go against the depth of your team when it’s wave after wave?
That’s a great question and I don’t really know if there is an answer for it. No matter who we put in the game, when someone gets in foul trouble like tonight or someone needs a rest or that kind of thing, we can just continue to sub and sub and sub and our bench and our entire team has a great amount of depth on what we can do on the court.
What do think it was like for Kia Nurse to play against Geno?
She’s done it before. We played Canada a few times. She loves it because she knows all of our plays. Anytime you have some of the best players in the world up against you, you know you’re going to have a rough night.
Are you tried of the talk about this team being bad for women’s basketball?
It comes to the point where you don’t even pay attention to it. The people who say we are bad for women’s basketball aren’t watching women’s basketball. They’re just making the comment. If they were to watch and see how we play the game … we’re setting the bar; we’re setting the expectations really high and everyone else needs to get better and get to that level.
On the game:
Our defense in the second quarter I thought really picked up. I think maybe they only had five or six (points) total, so that was huge. Our shots took a little bit to fall today. Other games we’ve kind of come out and played quarters where we’ve had three or four people hit two 3s right off the bat. So, tonight shots took a while to fall down, but Maya got it going in the second quarter, which was really big. Overall, defense was the name of the game tonight. They are a great team. They are tough to play against, so give them a lot of credit. Their defense on our offense kind of puts you in hard spots. So, they did really well.