While most of us were sleeping, the Team USA women’s basketball squad outlasted Nigeria, 81-72, in its Olympic opener last night. No, they didn’t blow out their opponents, as their male counterparts also failed to do in their 83-76 loss — but at least they freaking won.
Nigeria actually opened the affair with an 8-1 run before Team USA fired back, outscoring them 43-21 before allowing an Adaora Elonu buzzer-beating three to close the half. Team USA brought a 44-32 lead to the midway point, which grew to 70-50 after three. Nigeria had trailed 75-55 with 5:58 left but then pieced together 12 straight points over the next three minutes before a Tina Charles floater put Team USA back up by 10. After pulling within as close as eight, Nigeria ultimately lost by single-digits, and point differential matters in the Olympics regarding possible tie-breakers and future seeding.
The win gave Team USA their 50th consecutive Olympic victory, though it is a reminder that this gold medal chase won’t be necessarily easy for them either. Nigeria is ranked No. 17 in the world by FIBA, the lowest of all the clubs they’ll face in group play. Team USA will face Japan (No. 10 in the world) on Friday and France (No. 5) on Monday. Japan defeated France on Monday night (Tuesday morning in Japan), 74-70.
These same Olympics have also already featured world No. 2 Australia falling to Olympic-debuting No. 6 Belgium, 85-70. It should be noted, however, that Liz Cambage is not with the Australian National Team, which will obviously affect them. But on that note, it should also be noted (this story now has more notes than a Staples!) that the women’s national team quietly lost to that same Australian unit in a pre-Olympic scrimmage last week, 70-67 — and nobody went crazy over it.
Team USA was held to only 11 fourth quarter points against Nigeria, however, they’re also still building chemistry, it’s way less alarming than Team USA’s men, who have lost three games already, including two scrimmages, and most notably their Olympic opener.
For statheads, A’Ja Wilson dominated on the inside, leading Team USA with 19 points, 13 rebounds, two steals, and two blocks in her Olympic debut. Brittney Griner recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds while a scoreless Sue Bird dished out 13 assists.
They had their second-half scare, but, hey, it could’ve been worse. That 50-game winning streak will be routinely challenged going forward as Team USA builds that chemistry. But, as “Team USA,” you’ll continue to get everyone’s best shot, and if Japan is out here beating France, consider them a real threat later this week.