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Is Diana Taurasi the GOAT? Who is the best player today? Kara Lawson reflects on FIBA World Cup

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After the U.S. women’s basketball team again won the biggest tournament outside of the Olympics — the FIBA World Cup — 2008 Olympian and NBC Sports Washington Wizards TV analyst Kara Lawson discussed noteworthy topics within the U.S. team and the sport abroad with Tokyo 2020 in mind (questions and answers lightly edited for clarity) …

OlympicTalk: Overall impressions from worlds aside from more U.S. dominance?

Lawson: The turnover from 2016 in Rio to this year’s roster. Six players that helped the U.S. win gold [at the Olympics — Tamika Catchings (retired), Lindsay Whalen (retired), Seimone AugustusSylvia FowlesAngel McCoughtry and Maya Moore (all resting)] now turned over to six new players. They’re starting to integrate that next generation of players like A’ja Wilson, Jewell Loyd. Obviously Breanna Stewart was on the 2016 team, but was a young player then. She’s still young, but she’s asserted her dominance. You can see her becoming a focal point. There will probably be more tweaks [for Tokyo 2020]. I would anticipate seeing some of the familiar faces that we didn’t see in 2018. The U.S. is well positioned to bring home a seventh straight gold medal.

OlympicTalk: Who is the world’s best player?

Lawson: I would say probably Breanna Stewart [WNBA and FIBA World Cup MVP]. Also, the way Brittney Griner played inside. Also Diana Taurasi. To me those are the three players. You look at their performance in the World Cup. They’re able to change the game in different ways. Brittney Griner’s stats aren’t eye-popping, but what she was able to do was be the backstop back there and really solidify the U.S.’ defensive prowess, then offensively in the semis and finals. Stewart and her all-around game playing out of position for most of the tournament [at small forward]. Of course you had the experience of Taurasi, how she played in the semifinal, particularly out of halftime [when the U.S. led by just one point over Belgium] and the third quarter.

OlympicTalk: What happens with the starting lineup — in particular Stewart at the three — when Maya Moore returns and Elena Delle Donne isn’t coming off a knee injury?

Lawson: That’s going to be something the committee has to look at going forward. Stewart’s going to be on the floor. What position she is, it really doesn’t matter. But there are a lot of post-up players. With Delle Donne not fully healthy [at worlds] and how strong this team was, if she’s healthy that’s a whole new ballgame. There’s a lot of options, and they can bend their rotation any way they want to go. If Maya Moore’s back in the mix, that helps to upgrade this roster’s wing depth and obviously athleticism and shooting. There were definitely some flaws in the roster in terms of wing depth not a ton of athleticism at guard.

OlympicTalk: Is Diana Taurasi, now with seven global gold medals in addition to her club accolades and likely one final Olympics in 2020, the greatest player of all time? 

Lawson: She’s definitely in the GOAT conversation for sure with the likes of Cheryl MillerLisa LeslieTamika Catchings. At every level, she has achieved what those stars have or more. There is a winning component to a GOAT conversation. By the end her college career, she put herself in position to be talked about as one of the greatest college players ever [three NCAA titles at UConn]. In the WNBA, it took her four years to make the playoffs, but in her first year in the playoffs she won a championship. You look at all the international success, not just with the U.S. team but the EuroLeague, then playing at this level at this age [36], it’s incredible. I don’t know if you’re going to find a better résumé than what Diana Taurasi has to be the greatest of all time. In the top group of players, you can say this player or that player was a better player, and those are all reasonable arguments. What’s not reasonable is that Diana Taurasi would not be in the conversation.

OlympicTalk: It seemed like four years ago there was a question if a young point guard could supplant Sue Bird before Rio. She’s still the No. 1 point guard on this team at 37. Do you see anybody challenging her before Tokyo?

Lawson: If she’s healthy, I expect to see her in Tokyo with that wealth of experience she brings. With the U.S. enjoying as much depth as they do at these competitions, she’s not needed to play 40 minutes a night. I think [a young point guard] is still a question mark for the roster. I don’t think anybody’s solidified themselves as a point guard behind Sue quite yet. It’s still kind of murky, but there’s so much growth that happens year over year in the WNBA.

OlympicTalk: Is guard depth the biggest question for this team?

Lawson: Diana Taurasi played backup point guard in the medal rounds. Obviously she’s perfectly capable of filling that role. It’s something they can work around with all the talent that they have. The biggest question is you want to be sure and hope that Bird and Taurasi are healthy for Tokyo. Not that I’m questioning them, because they have great attention to detail, discipline and focus in taking care of their bodies, but you get into your late 30s and your health is a key all the time.

OlympicTalk: Who’s the silver-medal favorite right now?

Lawson: It’s pretty even. The group of favorites might depend on which European teams qualify [at global 2020 tournaments]. Australia, obviously, with Elizabeth Cambage, the team the U.S. played in the FIBA gold-medal game, that’s going to be a team to watch. France, which lost in the quarterfinals to Belgium, is a really good team. Belgium is up and coming. Spain has medaled in three straight global competitions.

MORE: U.S. volleyball’s ‘Slugger’ goes from coaching to MVP

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Tadej Pogacar stuns Primoz Roglic, set to win Tour de France

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Tadej Pogacar overtook countryman Primoz Roglic and is set to become the youngest Tour de France champion since 1904, the second-youngest in history and the first Slovenian champion.

Pogacar, who turns 22 on Monday, overcame a 57-second deficit to Roglic and won Saturday’s penultimate stage, a 22-mile time trial with a finishing four-mile climb. He is 59 seconds ahead of Roglic after three weeks and 84 hours of total racing.

“Actually, my dream was just to be [in] the Tour de France,” Pogacar said. “I cannot believe it, and if you ask me in one week, one month, I will still not believe it, probably.”

Pogacar won the stage by 81 seconds, greater than the margin separating second place from eighth place after 55 minutes on the roads. Roglic was fifth.

It’s reminiscent of American Greg LeMond surpassing Frenchman Laurent Fignon in the time trial finale of the 1989 Tour.

That final margin was the closest in Tour history — eight seconds. This one would be the 11th time in Tour history that the difference is less than a minute, according to ProCyclingStats.com.

“I struggled with everything, just not enough power,” Roglic said. “I was just more and more without the power that I obviously needed. I was just really giving everything till the end.”

Australian Richie Porte will join Pogacar and Roglic on the podium after moving up from fourth place going into the time trial. Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez, who came into the day in third, dropped to sixth.

It’s the first time since 2007 that everybody on the final Tour de France podium will be there for the first time.

TOUR DE FRANCE: Standings | TV, Stream Schedule | Stage By Stage

Sunday’s finale is the traditional ceremonial ride into Paris where the overall leaders don’t attack each other.

Pogacar is riding his first Tour de France and in his second season as a professional cyclist with a World Tour team.

Last September, he finished third in the Vuelta a Espana, one of three Grand Tours, which Roglic won. At the time, Pogacar became the youngest Grand Tour podium finisher since 1974.

“I knew that I can be with the best, that I can follow,” after the Vuelta, Pogacar said, “but I never thought that I would win already this year, especially in this season that was really strange.”

UAE Team Emirates initially planned to use Pogacar to support Fabio Aru, but the Slovenian’s continued emergence changed the plan.

“I’m going [to the Tour] firstly to learn,” Pogacar said in May. “But if I have a chance to show what I can do, I will.”

Pogacar was Robin to Roglic’s Batman for most of this Tour.

Roglic wore the yellow jersey as race leader the last two weeks. heading the dominant Jumbo-Visma team. Pogacar donned the white jersey for the highest-placed rider 25 and under, though he was on a weaker team.

But when they went head-to-head on climbs, Pogacar usually stuck with Roglic, sometimes riding away from him.

When it came down to the final climb on Saturday, with no team support in what they call the race of truth, Pogacar showed who was the strongest Slovenian.

“[Roglic] was really superior through the whole Tour,” Pogacar said. “He must be devastated, but that’s bike racing, I guess. Today I beat him, and that was it.”

MORE: USA Cycling names Olympic team finalists

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2020 Tour de France standings

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2020 Tour de France standings for the yellow jersey, green jersey, white jersey and polka-dot jersey through stage 20 of 21 …

Overall (Yellow Jersey)
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — 84:26:33
2. Primoz Roglic (SLO) — +:59
3. Richie Porte (AUS) — +3:30
4. Mikel Landa (ESP) — +5:58
5. Enric Mas (ESP) — +6:07
6. Miguel Angel Lopez (COL) — +6:47
7. Tom Dumoulin (NED) — +7:48
8. Rigberto Uran (COL) — +8:02
9. Adam Yates (GBR) — +9:25
10. Damiano Caruso (ITA) — +14:03
13. Richard Carapaz (ECU) — +24:44
15. Sepp Kuss (USA) — +42:20
17. Nairo Quintana (COL) — +1:02:46
29. Thibaut Pinot (FRA) — +1:59:33
36. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA) — +2:17:41
DNF. Egan Bernal (COL)

Sprinters (Green Jersey)
1. Sam Bennett (IRL) — 319 points
2. Peter Sagan (SVK) — 264
3. Matteo Trentin (ITA) — 250
4. Bryan Coquard (FRA) — 173
5. Caleb Ewan (AUS) — 158

Climbers (Polka-Dot Jersey)
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — 82 points
2. Richard Carapaz (ECU) — 74
3. Primoz Roglic (SLO) — 67
4. Marc Hirschi (SUI) — 62
5. Miguel Angel Lopez (COL) — 51

Young Rider (White Jersey)
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — 84:26:33
2. Enric Mas (ESP) — +6:07
3. Valentin Madouas (FRA) — +1:42:22
4. Dani Martinez (COL) — +1:54:51
5. Lennard Kamna (GER) — +2:14:33

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