USA women's basketball avoids Nigeria's comeback, secures first win of 2020 Olympics
The long-awaited return of the eight time Olympic gold medal dynasty known as the Team USA women's basketball team is finally over.
Fans from everywhere were ready to tune in to see whether or not no. 1 USA would start their quest for their eight straight gold, ninth overall, with a win or would fall to the up-and-coming no. 17 Nigeria.
Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird are going for their fifth straight Olympic gold medal, the most by any athlete regardless of sport and gender. Taurasi was about to achieve an amazing feat, playing in her 33rd Olympic game, the most out of anyone, also regardless of sport and gender. History is on the line for the USA and everyone is ready to witness if the Americans can pull it off.
Some thought it would be a blowout, as it was in the exhibition game where USA beat Nigeria 93-62, and some thought Nigeria would somehow be able to crack the Americans' code and provide a huge upset.
During the entirety of the game, fans probably felt all of those possibilities plus more happening.
The 1st quarter was a slow-roller. Both team's offenses were stagnant for majority of the quarter.
It took until 53 seconds into the game for the first point to be scored, a free-throw by A'ja Wilson. Shortly after, Ezinne Kalu of Nigeria made their first basket but after that, it was pure defense causing both offenses to be completely stagnant.
It wasn't until the 6:14 mark that the United States made their first bucket, a three pointer by none other than Diana Taurasi to make it 8-4 in favor of Nigeria.
Brittney Griner gave USA a 8-7 lead after she sunk a free-throw.
Breanna Stewart had some blocked shots here and there, showing her versatility on the defensive end but Nigeria was still able to get some points on the board while the USA struggled.
The very defensive quarter was in favor of Nigeria as they headed into the second with a 20-17 lead.
If the USA wanted a chance to show their true dominance, they needed a spark and fast.
After a few Nigeria buckets, it was time for USA to go on a run.
Wilson jolted it by shrinking Nigeria's lead to one, making it 25-24. Stewart made a free throw and suddenly, it was a tied game.
Can you guess who gave USA the lead? I'll give you a hint. First name is Diana and last name is Taurasi.
After draining another three, USA took a 28-25 lead. This shot is what sparked the Americans' run in the second. Confidence was booming.
Griner sunk a fast break two and Stewart joined in the fun with a jumper.
Charles joined the scoring party with a two pointer on a fast-break and Stewart shortly drained a three.
USA went on 5:33, 20-0 run until Nigeria broke it at 0:57 seconds left in the half.
At halftime, USA took a 44-32 lead due to their sheer dominance in the second.
The 3rd quarter was extremely similar to the second.
The USA came out running and played extremely great defense, just like they were doing the whole first half. There isn't much to say aside from two jaw-dropping highlights that everyone around the world, no matter which country they're rooting for, could appreciate.
Jewell Loyd hit extremely clutch threes, including an amazing buzzer beating three to end the third quarter. She isn't called the Gold Mamba for no reason.
Arguable the most impressive feat of this whole game was Sue Bird recording her 11th assist to fellow Seattle Storm teammate, Breanna Stewart at 6:40 in the third. Bird's career high in Olympic assists was nine before she got her 10th not even halfway through the third. To add onto the already impressive number, her 11th assist marked her 100th Olympic career assist.
The USA took a comfortable 70-50 lead and it seemed like they would continue to cruise to an easy victory.
Gosh were we all wrong.
Nigeria is such a fearless and tough team that giving up in the 4th quarter and losing this game was not in their mind.
Poor defensive execution and an offense that practically mirrored the 1st quarter haunted the USA.
Turnovers plagued the Americans and whenever they got a steal, they were unable to convert on the break. Both their transition offense and defense was measly and it seemed like Nigeria really hard a legitimate chance to come back and secure the upset.
Offensive execution was unlike what you would expect from the USA. Majority of their first points in the fourth were from free-throws. Nigeria clamped up on defense, not giving any breathing room or opportunity for the USA to do their thing.
Chelsea Gray pulled off some great transition twos, which were probably the highlights of their offense.
In the end, the USA were able to avoid Nigeria's 4th quarter comeback and secure a 81-72 win.
If Team USA wants to avoid their close wins over countries they should, in theory, blowout, Coach Staley needs to push the substitution button and incorporate the other players on the bench. Wearing out the starters won't help in the long run. This is the Olympics.
Players of the game:
Sue Bird: 13 assists and 4 rebounds
Brittney Griner: 13 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks
Diana Taurasi: 10 points
A'ja Wilson: 19 points, 13 rebounds and 2 blocks
Team USA takes on host Japan on July 30th at 11:40 PM CT
Team USA Olympic roster:
Ariel Atkins, Washington Mystics/Texas
Sue Bird, Seattle Storm/Connecticut
Tina Charles, Washington Mystics/Connecticut
Napheesa Collier, Minnesota Lynx/Connecticut
Skylar Diggins-Smith, Phoenix Mercury/Notre Dame
Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx/Louisiana State
Chelsea Gray, Las Vegas Aces/Duke
Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury/Baylor
Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm/Notre Dame
Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm/Connecticut
Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury/Connecitcut
A'ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces/South Carolina