Putting together the U.S. team for this year’s FIBA Women’s World Cup, which is currently taking place in Australia, took thoughtful effort. Although it has been just over 13 months since the U.S. National Team won its seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal, this team is different.
The returnees from the Olympic team are Jewell Loyd, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Ariel Atkins and Chelsea Gray. There are new faces, including the New York Liberty’s Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney, making their debuts on this exalted stage. This is also the National Team head coaching debut for Cheryl Reeve, coach of the Minnesota Lynx.
Laney played a significant role in Team USA’s historic 145–69 victory over Korea, which advanced the U.S. team to the quarterfinals. The final score by the U.S. was the most-ever scored in a Women’s World Cup game (previous record was 143 scored by Brazil in 1990), and it also broke the record for largest margin of victory, which the U.S. achieved in 2014. With 13 points, Laney was one of eight U.S. players to score in double figures.
“I thought we got off to a little bit slower start than what we wanted. We had a group that came in there and really changed things for us,” said Reeve after the game. “We got a little more pressure, little things that we’ve been doing that the first group wasn’t necessarily able to do in their minutes. Our size, our ability to be in the paint…was a problem for them.”
This World Cup is a time of redefining the U.S. presence in the paint. At last year’s Olympic Games, Brittney Griner was a huge factor, particularly in the gold medal game. She continues to be incarcerated in Russia. Also gone is four-time Olympic gold medalist Sylvia Fowles, who retired at the end of this WNBA season. There are also new people running the point, as five-time Olympic gold medalist Sue Bird retired.
“Personally, I’m getting acclimated to Cheryl’s system,” said Wilson. “She’s really wanted us to play up and down with a lot of pace, and I think that’s perfect for the players that we have here.
“When it comes to USA Basketball, it’s all about knowing your role,” she added. “We push a lot of things aside and make a lot of sacrifices to be here because we’re playing for something that’s bigger than us.”
The quarterfinals begin today.