Breanna Stewart’s youth may boost her Olympic team chances

Breanna Stewart
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The U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team of 12 players will lean heavily on experienced gold medalists and professional superstars adept at pressure situations.

And that’s why UConn senior Breanna Stewart, who fits neither of those labels, could become the youngest U.S. Olympic women’s basketball player since 1988 when the team is named in the next few months.

“[It’s roster spots] 10, 11 and 12 who aren’t going to get a lot of minutes,” said U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan, who chairs the five-person Olympic team selection committee. “Who can sit there and be ready to go and be content with that scenario? Sometimes that’s where youth has the advantage. … After you pick the first eight or nine, because you know that’s who the core of the team is, that last three or four is the ones that you have so much flexibility with to try and fit in. So the key is, we’re not picking an All-Star team. We’re picking a team. That’s the way it comes together.”

Ten of the 12 members of the 2012 Olympic team (that went undefeated en route to a fifth straight gold) are among 25 finalists to make the Rio Olympic team.

The pool of potential first-time Olympians includes reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Brittney Griner. The latter started all six games at the 2014 World Championship.

That would seem to leave little room for a collegian, even the 6-foot-4 forward Stewart, who has been called a guard in a center’s body and whose versatility has been likened to Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant.

Stewart is trying to lead UConn to a fourth straight NCAA title this season and could earn her third straight NCAA Player of the Year award. No UConn player has accomplished either feat.

Stewart’s UConn coach, Geno Auriemma, doubles as the Olympic coach (but is not on the five-person selection committee).

“Stewie has put herself ahead of a lot of players in the WNBA that could also be on this team,” Auriemma told media at a three-day national team camp at UConn last week. “And if she does make the team, it’s because she deserves it. She earned it.”

Stewart came into focus as an Olympic hopeful when she made the 2014 World Championship team.

At Worlds in Turkey, she played a total of 36 minutes over six games, scoring 11 points, fewest on the team. Not surprising, but the value in her being there was largely unrelated to the box score. Same with last week, when Stewart tacked on the national-team camp in between college games.

“Now Stewie’s one of us,” three-time Olympic champion point guard Sue Bird said at last week’s camp. “She was just way more assertive and aggressive and, beyond everything else, comfortable. When we had Worlds, she was the youngest on the team, it was her first time, there’s all these old players, probably players that she watched growing up. So I think it can be the type of situation where you don’t want to step on people’s toes, but now, I don’t think she cares.”

Diana Taurasi (2004), Candace Parker (2008) and Sylvia Fowles (2008) all made Olympic teams immediately following their final NCAA seasons. All three averaged between 16 and 19 minutes per game at their first Olympics, about three times as many as Stewart at the 2014 World Championship.

Callan compared Stewart to Maya Moore and Bird, who were one and two years out of college when they made their first Olympic teams but, like Stewart, already had World Championship experience.

“Young players, you don’t want to have to necessarily rely on them in the gold-medal game, when you’re down by one and there’s 10 seconds left,” Callan said of an unlikely scenario for the U.S., which has won 41 straight Olympic games. “But at the same time, they also sometimes by being young don’t feel that pressure. They just go play. When you’re a four-time Olympian, perhaps, you realize, whoa, the weight of the world. I just think it’s the mix of everything that values the youth and experience.”

MORE: Brittney Griner returns as Olympic finalist without fear of 2012

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

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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

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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