The U.S. women’s basketball team’s objective at the FIBA World Championships, which start Saturday, is exactly the same as what the U.S. men accomplished two weeks ago — repeat as world champion and clinch a spot in the 2016 Olympics.
The team guided by UConn coach Geno Auriemma is arguably more heavily favored than Mike Krzyzewski‘s crew to reach that goal, even after losing its first game in three years in an exhibition last week.
The U.S. roster includes Brittney Griner for the first time at a global championship plus seven members of the 2012 Olympic champion team. WNBA MVP Maya Moore and Finals MVP Diana Taurasi are in Turkey for the tournament, but the U.S. squad is so deep that All-WNBA First Team selection Skylar Diggins was one of the final cuts. (more analysis of the U.S. roster here)
The U.S. showed some weakness in pre-tournament games — its first loss since 2011 on Sunday, a 76-72 defeat to France. The U.S. beat France in the London Olympic final by 36 points.
Still, the U.S. is in much better shape than its longtime top challenger — Australia. The Aussies took silver in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics and came the closest to the U.S. at the 2012 Olympics, falling by 13 in the semifinals.
For the World Championships, Australia is without stalwart Lauren Jackson (hip injury) and its No. 2 scorer from London, Liz Cambage, who ruptured an Achilles tendon in a 72-66 exhibition loss to the U.S. last week.
Still, Australia beat France without Jackson and Cambage by 16 points last Saturday. The Aussies will be led by two-time Olympian Penny Taylor, the MVP of the 2006 FIBA World Championship, when the U.S. was shocked by Russia in the semifinals.
The U.S. begins play in four-nation Group D against China on Saturday. All four group winners advance to the quarterfinals. The second- and third-place teams advance to an elimination round to determine the other four quarterfinalists.
If the U.S. and Australia win their groups and their quarterfinals, they will meet in the Oct. 4 semifinals.
Here’s the U.S. schedule:
Saturday — China, 2:30 p.m. ET
Sunday — Serbia, 2:30 p.m. ET
Tuesday — Angola, 2:30 p.m. ET
Friday, Oct. 3 — Quarterfinal
Saturday, Oct. 4 — Semifinal
Sunday, Oct. 5 — Final