TENERIFE, Spain – U.S. coach Dawn Staley knows her team is a work in progress.
With a lack of training time as a group, each game is an opportunity to improve chemistry on the court.
The opener against Senegal didn’t start out well, with the Americans trailing Senegal by eight points before wearing the African nation down in an 87-67 victory on Saturday in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.
“We’ve had more actual games then we’ve had practices,” Staley said. “That’s what you saw on the floor. Sometimes didn’t look as clean as we’d like it to be.”
Elena Delle Donne scored 19 points and Nneka Ogwumike added 16 to lead the U.S.
The two teams played six days ago and the Americans cruised to a 51-point victory. For the first 15 minutes in this one, Senegal was the more aggressive team. The African nation took a 10-2 lead early on much to the delight of fans who were singing and waving the country’s flag proudly. When the U.S. took a 15-12 advantage, Senegal answered with five straight points to take the lead again.
The game was tied at 25 midway through the second quarter before the U.S. started to assert its dominance. The Americans (1-0) closed the half with a 20-6 run keyed by Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi to take a 14-point lead at the break.
Senegal tried to hang around in the third quarter and only lost the period by three points, but it could get no closer than 15 in the final 10 minutes, when the U.S. pulled away.
“Senegal played a great game, came out super strong and came out super aggressive, we had to play our way through the game,” Delle Donne said. “Like Dawn said, we have a lot of depth and the game is 40 minutes long. We’re still getting used to playing together. We’ve only had a couple days. We need to continue to get better.”
The victory was the Americans’ 17th in a row in the tournament and 42nd in the past 43 games in the World Cup. The only blemish over the past 20 years was a loss to Russia in the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup.
Bird has been a part of most of those wins. She is playing a U.S. record fifth World Cup. She has won three gold medals and could become the first player ever to win four. Bird was still wearing a mask to cover her face after breaking her nose in the WNBA playoffs.
Bird and Seattle Storm teammates Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd showed up earlier this week after winning the WNBA championship. The Americans have had the entire team together for only a few days, and building continuity on the court will be key during pool play.
In the past, the Americans have had a consistent core of players. This team has six players who got their first World Cup experience: Delle Donne, Loyd, Layshia Clarendon, Morgan Tuck, A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum. Delle Donne played for the U.S. in the 2016 Olympics but missed the 2014 world championship because of a thumb injury.
She suffered a bone bruise in the WNBA playoffs and is still recovering.
Khairy Sarr Oumoul scored 18 points for Senegal (0-1), which fell to 0-5 against the U.S. in the World Cup all-time. The U.S. won the first four meetings by an average of nearly 53 points.
“This is a good way to boost our confidence. We can use it as a motivation,” Senegal coach Cheikh Sarr said.
The U.S. was without Brittney Griner on Saturday after she tweaked her ankle in practice. She is day to day. Griner wasn’t worried about the injury, joking that they turned on the gravity in the gym and that’s why she injured her ankle. Had it been an elimination game, the Americans’ star center says she would have been on the court.
“Even if I lost the whole leg I would have played,” she said, smiling.
Looking for a W
African nations have struggled in the World Cup, falling to 6-90 in the competition since it first began in 1953. Senegal has been the most successful, winning four times. Nigeria lost to Australia earlier Saturday.
China defeated Latvia 64-61 in the other game in the same pool as the U.S. France beat South Korea 89-58; Australia topped Nigeria 86-68; Turkey routed Argentina 63-37 and Canada beat Greece 81-50. Spain beat Japan 84-71 and Belgium routed Puerto Rico 86-36.
Senegal: Will play Latvia on Sunday.
U.S.: Will play China on Sunday.
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