Trailing by two points early in the fourth quarter, the USA Women’s National Team closed with a 25-8 run to defeat the University of Connecticut 79-64 in an exhibition game on Monday night at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut.
“Once we got past not starting all five UConn players and some media people mad at me, the game got off to a great start,” joked USA coach Cheryl Reeve (Minnesota Lynx). “(We played) exactly how we wanted to play, and I thought we had a great sense of urgency about us, great passion about what we were doing, got some easy stuff, played in transition. They didn’t make many shots, and then the second quarter was the exact opposite, shooting 21.0%.
“The third quarter, we came out with a really good focus on where we were going to be successful – we didn’t shoot a free throw in the first half, and we were determined to pound that thing inside and try to establish that, and I thought (Sylvia Fowles) was terrific.”
Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx/Louisiana State) led the USA with 19 points and six rebounds; Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks/Stanford) tallied 14 points, five rebounds and three assists; Kayla McBride (Las Vegas Aces/Notre Dame) added 12 points; and Tina Charles (New York Liberty/Connecticut), who was one of five UConn alumni on the USA roster, grabbed nine rebounds and had five assists and six points.
“We got stops and blew up some of their plays,” Fowles said of the USA in the fourth quarter. “Not letting them get 3s off. I think they got comfortable shooting 3s, and we shut that down in the fourth quarter.”
To pay tribute to Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, as well as the other seven people who tragically died on Jan. 26, the players wore a black band on their jerseys, the arena observed 24 seconds of silence before the game and the teams let an eight-second shot clock and 24-second shot clock expire on the first possessions.
“That was kind of the one calming factor throughout all of this – we all had each other,” said Sue Bird (Seattle Storm/Connecticut). “As a USA Basketball team, we had each other. Obviously, the UConn players have each other, and then we were able to come together tonight and play. I think knowing the relationship that he had with this program and knowing the relationship that he had with a lot of the individuals in USA Basketball, this was the perfect place to be, to be honest. Playing a basketball game with all of these people who were impacted by him.”
Following the emotional start, the USA led 7-0 in the first few minutes and then 22-11 after the first quarter.
Connecticut fought back in the second period, however, and after a 17-2 run, led 28-27 with 2:54 to play. Connecticut went ahead by two points, 31-29 after a 3-pointer from Crystal Dangerfield, and the USA tied the game at 31-31 at halftime after a jumper from McBride.
The USA took a seven-point lead at 7:11 in the third quarter, but UConn fought back and was trailing by one point heading into the fourth period, 52-51. UConn scored first in the fourth quarter and then led 56-54 at 9:05, but from there it was all USA, as the 25-8 run sealed the victory for the USA.
This group of USA Women’s National Team athletes had just one practice together on Sunday, Jan. 26, and then a morning shootaround before taking the court against the Huskies.
“I think we expected a test. I think the way we came out we were very happy with that in the first quarter,” said Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm/Connecticut), who was playing in her first game back since suffering a ruptured Achilles last March. “We were running, we were just being aggressive. We knew that they were going to come at us with a second punch.
“We are going to continue to grow,” Stewart said of the team. “We had one practice, and now we will have some more before the next game. But, it’s not something that is new to us for USA Basketball. We are used to coming together last minute and having to play a game. We will use this time to get better for Tokyo.”
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) did not play due to back soreness, and A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces/South Carolina) was out after recently have her wisdom teeth removed.
After practicing in New York on Jan. 29 and 30, the USA will travel south to play the University of Louisville at 2 p.m. on Feb. 2 (ESPN), which will wrap up its winter 2020 college series.
Following its game against the Cardinals, the USA will move on to Serbia to compete in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament Feb. 6-9 in Belgrade. The USA opens against host Serbia on Feb 6, takes on Mozambique Jan. 8 and closes against Nigeria on Jan. 9. All three games will tip at 2 p.m. EST and will stream on ESPN+
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