U.S. Women’s Basketball Team Overwhelms Canada 83-43
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — Just after the United States routed Canada by 40 points, Geno Auriemma and his UConn greats posed for a group photo on the court.
The five UConn players, who helped the Huskies win 10 of their 11 national championships, received one last rousing ovation from the crowd. A fitting send off for the team from their adoring Connecticut fans.
Auriemma gave those same fans an opportunity to cheer on their former UConn greats early on, starting the five of them. It was virtual the same starting lineup he used in a win over France on Wednesday. The only change was putting Breanna Stewart into the group instead of Elena Delle Donne.
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The Hall of Fame coach said it was the right thing to do.
"I hadn't had the same starting five in any games we played," he said after the 83-43 victory Friday night. "I thought to myself, I asked Cheryl (Reeve), if you were head coach instead of me, you'd do it, because it's the right thing to do. She said OK. I'm not going to worry about it and did it. It was fun for the kids and the fans."
The players really didn't notice it until the opening tip.
"When you look at it, you have a good piece of history out there with Sue (Bird) and Diana (Taurasi) representing the early success and then Stewie on the other end," said Maya Moore, who helped the Huskies win two titles. "It was really cool and really cool for the fans."
That UConn five set the tone early defensively.
After struggling in their first two exhibition games in the first half, the Americans jumped all over their neighbors to the north.
The U.S. only had a three-point lead on the select team in their pre-Olympic tour opener Monday and led France by one Wednesday at the half. The Americans wouldn't let that happen against Canada.
Taurasi, Bird, Moore, Stewart and Tina Charles struggled a little offensively when they were in, but defensively they shut down Canada.
The Canadians missed 13 of their first 14 shots and couldn't recover from the slow start, trailing by 13 after one quarter and 24 at the half.
"I thought defensively we were about as good as we can be given the short amount of work that we've done," Auriemma said. "That kind of led to a bunch of other things."
Taurasi scored 14 points, and Delle Donne added 12 to lead the U.S.
Auriemma had always seemed to shy away from playing all his UConn players at the same time during the 2012 London Olympics and the last two world championships. He rarely ever had five UConn players on the court in either of those major championships. But just as he did starting Delle Donne in Delaware on Wednesday, he gave the fans one more opportunity to cheer the local favorites. The loud crowd gave the former Huskies a great ovation in pregame introductions and then cheered every one of their plays.
"When we get to Rio, the best five players for that situation will be on the floor regardless of where they come from," Auriemma said.
The offensive highlight of the first half came from Delle Donne, who threw a nifty no-look pass to Taurasi for a layup.
Canada finished fifth in the world championship in 2014 and will look to improve on that in Rio. The Canadians have never won a medal at the Olympics in women's basketball and with a nice mix of veterans and talented youth hope to change that.
One of those talented young players is Kia Nurse, who is a rising junior at UConn. Nurse help lead Canada to the gold medal at the Pan-Am Games last summer. She got a really nice hand from the crowd in pregame introductions, but had a rough game. She was scoreless in 25 minutes, missing all three of her shots.
This was Nurse's second game back for Canada. She had sports hernia surgery after helping UConn win a fourth consecutive national championship this April.
"I can't say how impressed and pleased we are that she's come back as well as she has," Canada coach Lisa Thomaidis said. "She's such a competitor, so tough, nothing surprises us anymore with her."
While the Canadians will be searching for their first medal, the U.S. will be trying for an unprecedented sixth consecutive gold at the Olympics. The Americans have one more exhibition game Sunday against Australia, which beat France 76-67 on Friday night. The top two teams in the world will play at Madison Square Garden. Canada will face France.