U.S. women’s basketball team wins FIBA World Cup opener missing players

Alyssa Thomas
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SYDNEY — It’s been a whirlwind week for Alyssa Thomas.

She went from losing in the WNBA Finals on Sunday to flying 10,000 miles to Australia a day later to play for the United States in the World Cup. Thomas had 14 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in her debut for the Americans, who beat Belgium 87-72 in the tournament opener on Thursday.

After finding out she’d be on the U.S. roster, she never gave any thought to skipping the World Cup.

“Excited to be a part of this, been waiting a long time,” the 30-year-old Thomas said.

U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve was impressed with what Thomas was able to do with the short turnaround time.

“It’s what I expected Alyssa to do, as it’s just what she does. She’s a competitor and knows how to (play),” Reeve said. “WNBA players don’t get enough credit for how well that they transition from overseas play to WNBA play to national team play.”

Breanna Stewart scored 22 points and Jewell Loyd also scored 14 for the short-handed U.S. team, which was still missing Las Vegas Aces players A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum. They were on their way to Australia after celebrating the franchise’s first WNBA championship with a parade on Tuesday. The trio is expected to be in Sydney on Friday.

MORE: FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Thomas and her UConn teammate Brionna Jones, who also arrived on Wednesday, were two of six players on the roster who hadn’t played for the U.S. in either the World Cup or Olympics.

This team is very different from the one that won a third straight gold in Spain in 2018. Sue Bird is retired, and Diana Taurasi is out after suffering a WNBA season-ending injury. Brittney Griner, who would have been on this team, is in a Russian jail after being convicted of drug possession last month in a politically charged case and sentenced to nine years in prison. The U.S. government is trying to secure her release.

These teams met in the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup, with the Americans using a big third quarter to pull away and win by 16.

The Americans jumped out to a quick 12-0 lead before Belgium settled down to get within one. The U.S. lengthened the lead again behind Stewart and Loyd and was up 48-39 at the half. The Americans went on a 12-4 run to start the third quarter and put the game away.

The U.S. did a stellar job defensively on Belgian Emma Meesseman. The Chicago Sky star led the Olympics in scoring last year, averaging 26.8 points. She had four against the U.S, which has now won 23 consecutive World Cup games since losing in the 2006 semifinals to Russia. The Americans are three wins short of matching their record 26-game run from 1998-2006.

Julie Vanloo scored 13 points to lead Belgium.

“Really proud of this young team,” Meesseman said. “Sometimes we lacked focus but a lot to be proud of and looking forward to the next few games.”

NEW NUMBER: USA Basketball decided to have no one wear Griner’s No. 15 in this tournament. The Americans have used numbers 4 to 15 for a long time. Brionna Jones, who would have been 15, was wearing No. 16.

SCOREBOARD: Puerto Rico beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 82-58 for the country’s first-ever World Cup win.

TRIPLE-DOUBLE WATCH: Thomas, who had a triple-double in each of the last two games in the WNBA Finals, fell just short of getting the first one at the World Cup since Erika Dobrovicova did it in 1994 for the Slovak Republic against Spain. Assists and rebounds weren’t kept before 1994.

TIP-INS: The U.S. had 25 assists on 30 baskets. … The Americans forced 25 Belgium turnovers that led to 27 points. … Belgium hit 11 3-pointers to stay in the game.

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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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