Simone Biles deals with rising expectations ahead of P&G Championships

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INDIANAPOLIS — Simone Biles shed tears Wednesday.

Biles, the two-time reigning U.S. and World all-around champion who hasn’t lost in more than two years, did something unexpected on the balance beam while practicing ahead of the P&G Championships at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

She fell.

“A lot,” coach Aimee Boorman said, unconcerned. “Even on a bad day, it would have been better than what she did today.”

Biles called it a “waste of a workout,” one day before she begins a quest to become the first woman in 23 years to win three straight U.S. all-around titles (broadcast schedule here).

“I cried it all out, so it’s good,” she said, unconcerned. “I just get so frustrated with myself that the first thing I go to is to cry.”

Boorman’s coaching advice?

“She told me to screw my head on,” Biles said.

The sequence was a reminder that no matter how many gymnastics legends pump Biles up as the greatest to ever wear a leotard, she is capable of mistakes. Even defeat.

“We get so nervous because we have to be perfect all the time, and that’s not even possible,” Biles said.

Her last loss in a public all-around competition was March 30, 2013. Biles has won eight straight meets since and is the prohibitive favorite to win the Olympic all-around title in Rio de Janeiro next year.

But behind closed doors, at a national team camp at the Karolyi ranch in Texas earlier this year, Biles finished second in “verifications,” combining scores from all four apparatuses.

“I would rather see you at the top,” U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi told Biles that day, unconcerned, according to Biles. “It is what it is.”

Biles will compete Thursday and Saturday against a field much deeper than in 2013 or 2014. It includes Olympic champions Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, at their first nationals since 2012, and 2013 U.S. junior champion Bailie Key, who missed last year’s meet due to injury.

“Everybody wants to knock down the champion and be the new champion,” Karolyi said. “Mentally, it’s a little bit more pressure.”

Performances at the P&G Championships will go a long way in determining who is chosen for the six-woman team for October’s World Championships. That team will be named following a more important fall national team camp.

Biles is in no danger of missing the Worlds team. She will win in Indianapolis if she hits all eight of her routines, NBC Olympics analyst Nastia Liukin said.

“I think all the girls are just like, ‘Simone’s just in her own league, and whoever gets second place, that’s the winner,'” Raisman joked in a USA Today podcast recently. “Simone’s just doing her own thing. Her and [Japanese Olympic all-around champion] Kohei Uchimura just can do their own thing together.”

With a reputation like that comes expectations.

“She’s human, and I think people see her as being something other than human,” Boorman said.

Australian swimming champion Ian Thorpe once said, “If you turn those expectations into a negative, that becomes pressure. If you turn those expectations into a positive, it becomes support.”

The support is there. Biles feels it around her native Houston area, where she graced a local magazine cover and is recognized more and more.

But Boorman said she thinks sometimes people see Biles “as being something other than human.”

“If she were to not win at this point in her career, she wouldn’t be disappointed in herself or upset that someone else beat her,” Boorman said. “She would be worried about disappointing other people, the people that hold the expectations of her.”

Gabby Douglas looks to disprove social media doubters at P&G Championships

2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA vs. Serbia Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada vs. Puerto Rico Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China vs. France Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Belgium Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA vs. Canada Semifinals
5:30 a.m. Australia vs. China Semifinals
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final

U.S. into FIBA World Cup semifinals after trailing, triple-double watch

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SYDNEY — Alyssa Thomas and her United States teammates were tested for the first time in the World Cup by a physical Serbia team.

After a slow start, the Americans used a dominant run spanning the half to take control of the game and reach the semifinals again.

Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists to help the U.S. beat Serbia 88-55 in the quarterfinals of the women’s World Cup on Thursday.

“I think you expect every team’s best punch in the first quarter,” Thomas said. “We just had to settle into the game and once we settled in, then we were really able to break away.”

Kelsey Plum scored 17 points and A’ja Wilson added 15 to lead the Americans (6-0) into the semifinals.

“They played super physical, more physical than we’ve seen the entire tournament,” Plum said. “Credit to them. I felt that early-on their pressure bothered us a little bit, but we were able to kind of get under control.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

The Americans had run through pool play, winning by 46.2 points per game and hadn’t faced any kind of challenge. Serbia (3-2) wasn’t afraid though, going right at the U.S. The Serbians scored the first basket of the game — marking the first time the Americans trailed in the tournament.

It was back-and-forth for the first 17 minutes, with the U.S. failing to go on any major run. Then, with 2:59 left in the half and the U.S. up by five, Kahleah Copper drove to the basket and was fouled. She landed hard on her hip and had to be helped off the court by the U.S. training staff. Copper, who has been a sparkplug for the U.S. in her first tournament, didn’t return.

“It’s too early to tell,” Reeve said of the extent of Copper’s injury. “We’re getting her some imaging and we’ll have information later.”

Plum replaced Cooper and hit the two free throws, starting a 12-0 run to close the half as the Americans led 50-33 at the break. Thomas had 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals in the opening 20 minutes.

The U.S. extended its run to 20 straight points in the third quarter before Serbia finally ended a nearly 8 1/2 minutes drought with a 3-pointer by Yvonne Anderson. That cut the deficit to 22 points. Serbia didn’t get much closer after that.

Anderson led Serbia with 14 points.

Betnijah Laney went down hard early in the fourth quarter on a put-back. She left the game and sat on the bench for the rest of the game.

“She took a hard fall,” Reeve said. “She was in the locker room afterwards and I think in her case it was a little more of it took the wind out of her.”

The victory was the 28th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86.

After going unbeaten in pool play again, the U.S. reached at least the semifinals for the 12th consecutive tournament, dating to 1975. That year completed a cycle in which the Americans lost 14 games combined in four tournaments. They’ve only lost five games since.

PICASSO IT WAS NOT

The U.S. had dominated the paint even without Brittney Griner, outscoring its opponents by an average of 60.8-24.4 in pool play. Serbia held a 20-16 advantage at the half and ended up outscoring the Americans 28-26 in the game by constantly having two or three players inside to clog up the middle.

“It’s one of those things you got to live with,” Wilson said. “Hopefully these next couple of games we can get back to owning the paint. Serbia did a great job of locking it down.

TRIPLE-DOUBLE WATCH

Thomas, who had a triple-double in each of the last two games in the WNBA Finals, fell just short again of getting the first one at the World Cup since Erika Dobrovicova in 1994 for the Slovak Republic against Spain. Assists and rebounds weren’t kept before 1994. Thomas had 14 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the opener against Belgium.

TIP-INS

Jewell Loyd returned to the U.S. starting lineup a game after resting according to the team. She had eight points.

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