U.S. champions hope to end Skate America droughts

Gracie Gold
AP
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It’s been three years since a U.S. woman won Skate America and six for the men, but Gracie GoldJason Brown and Max Aaron hope to end the drought for home skaters at the U.S.’ biggest annual international event this weekend.

Gold, Brown and Aaron, who all own U.S. titles, each seek their first Skate America crowns in Milwaukee. Short programs for all four disciplines are Friday. The long programs are all Saturday.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air coverage Saturday from 5-6 p.m. ET. NBCSN will air coverage Sunday from 10-11:30 p.m. ET.

Gold, 20, finished third last year, behind Russians Yelena Radionova and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who would go on to be the two most consistent women in the world in 2014-15 and take two places on the World Championships podium.

Gold’s chances in Milwaukee are boosted by the absence of top Russians this year. Yulia Lipnitskaya, the darling of the Sochi Olympic team event who dropped to ninth at last season’s Russian Championships, leads the Russian entries at Skate America.

Like Lipnitskaya, Gold has much to prove.

Though she’s been consistent on the major international championship stage — fourth at the 2014 Olympics and sixth, fifth and fourth at the last three Worlds — Gold relinquished her U.S. title to Ashley Wagner in January.

Then she struggled three weeks ago at the Japan Open team event, a free skate-only competition that’s closer to an exhibition than a Grand Prix like Skate America. Gold was last among a decorated six-skater field.

Another woman in the Skate America field, Japan’s World silver medalist Satoko Miyahara, outscored Gold by 20.14 points in the Japan Open.

If a non-American wins Skate America, it will match the longest U.S. women’s drought in the competition’s history.

MORE: Gracie Gold eyes rebound after crumbling in Japan

The men’s field is arguably deeper, with two of the last three U.S. champions in Brown and Aaron, plus Olympic and World bronze medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan.

But the most anticipated skater is Japan’s Shoma Uno, a 17-year-old making his Grand Prix Series debut. Uno swept the World Junior Championship and Junior Grand Prix Final last season and was second to Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu at Japan’s senior national championships.

Uno then dusted the field at the Japan Open, including World champions Javier Fernandez and Patrick Chan, with a program that included two quadruple jumps earlier this month.

Brown, who won last season’s U.S. Championships and was fourth at Worlds, re-added a quadruple toe loop to his program in winning a small event in Slovakia three weeks ago to open his season.

Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion who just missed the team for the 2014 Olympics and 2015 Worlds, has finished no better than third in his Grand Prix series career.

A win for either Brown or Aaron at Skate America would mark the first Grand Prix title for a U.S. man since Jeremy Abbott claimed the Cup of China in 2011.

If an American does not win for a sixth straight year, it will break the record for longest U.S. men’s drought at Skate America.

The U.S. entries also include defending Skate America ice dance champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who are the reigning World silver medalists.

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U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new up-tempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. women’s basketball team won 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, headlined a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, included neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team had 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 60 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The U.S. beat China in the final, while host Australia took bronze to send 41-year-old Lauren Jackson into retirement.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), wasn’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 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 61, Australia 59 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia 95, Canada 65 Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA 83, China 61 Gold-Medal Game