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Early in the U.S. women’s national basketball team’s Sunday morning matchup with China, NBC’s cameras caught Elena Delle Donne seated on the bench, holding an ice pack over her right eye. NBC’s Kerith Burke later reported that the reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player and ace Team USA reserve had caught a stray elbow from a teammate during pregame warm-ups.
That was the most damaging blow Team USA took on Sunday.
The U.S. women’s national basketball team completed a sterling run through the group stage at the 2016 Summer Olympics, throttling overmatched China nearly from the opening tip — nearly because, in something of an upset, American center Brittney Griner didn’t take control of the ball as soon as the ref threw it up — en route to a breezy 105-62 victory to win Group B. Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles dominated inside against the smaller Chinese women and carried the offensive load, combining for 49 points on 23-for-31 shooting to pace the U.S., which finished the preliminary slate a perfect 5-0, outscoring its opposition by an average of 40.8 points and standing tall as the competition’s dominant force. That’s the way it’s been since 1992, with Team USA’s Olympic winning streak now covering 46 games heading into the knockout round.
Griner added 13 rebounds, three assists and a block in just 23 minutes in her best performance of group play. Maya Moore finished just 4-for-11 from the floor, but she was sensational all over the court on her way to nine points, eight rebounds, eight assists, four steals and a block; only the lopsided score and the enviable roster depth that limited her to 19 minutes of burn kept her from logging a triple-double.
After a tight first quarter in an eventual 30-point win over Canada on Friday, Geno Auriemma had Team USA focused from the outset and ready to take the fight right to a Chinese side that had lost three of its first four games in Rio. A 3-2 lead was as good as it got for China, as the U.S. ripped off 20 consecutive points to take control of the game. As impressive as the U.S. squad’s offensive firepower has been throughout the competition thus far, it was the U.S. defense that carried the day early, with dynamic all-around wing Moore forcing turnovers and hurried shots, while Griner and Charles controlled the action inside and cleared the boards. China had just three points through the game’s first seven minutes, and the suffocating U.S. led 32-9 after the first quarter and never looked back.
All that active, aggressive defense sparked the U.S. offense, leading to runouts for fast-break layups that paced the Americans to scorching 65 percent shooting in the first half. The stellar ball movement that the U.S. women have displayed throughout the Summer Games, captained by point guards Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen, reached a remarkable new level with 24 assists on 26 made baskets through two quarters to take a 60-26 edge into the locker room. Team USA finished with a U.S. Olympic-record 40 dimes on 46 makes in the blowout win, with five players logging at least five helpers in the collective effort.
Coming off dominant wins over Senegal, Spain, Serbia, Canada and now China, the U.S. will take on Japan, the fourth-place finisher in Group A, to open the win-or-go-home knockout round in the tournament quarterfinals on Tuesday. Should the U.S. get past Japan, only a meeting with the winner of the quarterfinal matchup between 3-2 France, the runner-up in Group A, and either Spain or Canada would stand between Team USA and a trip to the gold-medal game.
There, they’ll likely meet Australia, bronze medalists in London in 2012 and silver medalists in the three preceding Summer Games. The No. 2-ranked team in the world and winners of Group A, Australia also finished a perfect 5-0 in group play led by 6-foot-8 center Elizabeth Cambage, who topped the group stage in scoring and finished second in rebounding, and could have the combination of size, skill and scoring to give the U.S. a run for its money.
Until that matchup, though, the depth, defensive steel and pedal-to-the-medal fast-breaking attack of Team USA seems likely to continue overwhelming the opposition … and, as Delle Donne’s friendly-fire facial injury proves, even the other members of the squad.
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