Brittney Griner

Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi on fifth Olympic basketball team as U.S. squad named for Tokyo

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Ready for a run at a seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal, the 12 U.S. women who will don the USA Basketball jersey in Tokyo were announced Monday morning on the “TODAY” show.

Led by soon-to-be five-time Olympians Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team is an even mix of six veterans and six athletes headed to their first Olympic Games.

Sylvia Fowles returns for a fourth Olympic team, only the seventh U.S. basketball player to do so, while Tina Charles will play on her third. Both Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart were on the 2016 squad in Rio.

Jewell Loyd and A’ja Wilson will step onto an Olympic court for the first time this summer, but were on the winning FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in 2018. Ariel AtkinsNapheesa CollierSkylar Diggins-Smith and Chelsea Gray will play five-on-five for the first time in a senior-level event. Collier won the Youth Olympic gold medal in 3×3 basketball in 2014.

The team is coached by Dawn Staley, a three-time Olympic and two-time World champion herself, who was named head coach in 2017 after Geno Auriemma led the U.S. women to victory in London and Rio.

She is joined by assistant coaches Dan Hughes, Cheryl Reeve and Jennifer Rizzotti.

“USA Basketball has never been in a better place,” Staley said in a release. “I’m honored to be the coach of such an amazing collection of talented women, both those named to the team and those who gave their all the last few years but won’t be with us in Tokyo. The fact that some of the players who won’t suit up this summer would start for any other country is a testament to their talent and to what USA Basketball has done to build a program that lifts up our female athletes every single day.  I’m so proud to be the coach of Team USA and like all of the coaches, support staff, and our players, I can’t wait to make America proud this summer.”

Notably absent from the roster are 2019 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and 2016 WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike, who was on the last two World Cup teams. Delle Donne, who played in Rio, is still recovering from two back surgeries and has not yet done any five-on-five work in her return, according to Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault.

The 12 women combine for a career international record of 749-37.

RELATED: Meet the U.S. women’s basketball roster for Tokyo

The team ranges in age from 24 (Atkins, Collier, Wilson — though Atkins and Wilson turn 25 during the Olympics) to 40 (Bird), and even includes two mothers. Taurasi’s wife Penny gave birth to son Leo in 2018, while Diggins-Smith gave birth to her son in April 2019.

Having also won the last three World Cups (and eight of the last 11), the Americans remain ranked No. 1 in the world. They are expected to face their stiffest competition from world No. 2 Australia, the 2018 World Cup runner-up, and No. 3 Spain, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist.

Bird and Taurasi, 39, have been competing for the U.S. for more than two decades and will set or tie numerous records next month.

Only six other basketball athletes from any nation have played at five Olympics, including just one other American in five-time medalist Teresa Edwards (four golds, one bronze). No basketball player has won five gold medals.

Only one Olympic basketball player, Puerto Rico’s Jose Rafael Ortiz, has competed at an age older than Bird will be in Tokyo (by a matter of 20-plus days).

Their former teammate, Tamika Catchings, held the title of oldest U.S. Olympic basketball player at 37 years old in Rio five years ago; Bird will become both the oldest American and the oldest woman to play at 40 years, 284 days on the day of their first game.

Finally, Bird and Taurasi hold a Guinness World Record for most consecutive gold medals in a team Olympic event at four. Currently tied with fellow basketball great Lisa Leslie and Chinese diver Wu Minxia, they could build on that record.

The team itself has won every Olympic title since the 1996 Games in Atlanta and with a seventh straight one would tie the U.S. men’s basketball team (1936-1968) for most consecutive Olympic gold medals in a team sport.

The U.S. women begin play on July 27 against Nigeria. They continue Group B play against host nation Japan on July 30 and world No. 5 France on Aug. 2.

The U.S. also qualified a women’s team for the Olympic debut of 3×3 basketball; the four players are expected to be named later this week.

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WATCH LIVE: U.S. women’s basketball faces France in semifinal round

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One step away from playing for their sixth consecutive Olympic gold medal, the U.S. women meet France in the second semifinal of the day. The two nations met in the gold medal game of the last Summer Olympics, with the Americans rolling to an 86-50 victory in London.

While the U.S. was dominant in the second half of their win over Japan in the quarterfinals, France eliminated Canada in a hard-fought game by the final score of 68-63. Sandrine Gruda led a balanced scoring attack with 14 points, and balance has been the key for France in Rio. They’re going to have to be even better than they have been defensively if they’re to dethrone Diana Taurasi and company however, as the U.S. has scored more than 100 points in five of their six games in Rio.

WATCH LIVE: Women’s basketball semifinal, U.S. vs. France — 6 p.m. Eastern

The winner gets either Spain or Serbia in Saturday’s gold medal game.

U.S. advances to women’s hoops semis with dominant 2nd half

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With 1:29 left in the first half a layup by Ramu Tokashiki pulled Japan to within two points of the U.S. women, 48-46. Executing well offensively, the fourth-place team in Pool A was putting up far greater of a fight than anyone anticipated. But Geno Auriemma’s team grabbed control of the game with an 8-0 run to end the first half, and a dominant second half on both ends of the floor resulted in a 110-64 victory for the Americans.

Next up for the U.S., which has now won 47 straight games in Olympic competition, will be France in Thursday’s semifinals. In the final game of the night, France defeated Canada 68-63.

Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore scored 19 points apiece to lead the way for the U.S., which limited Japan to just 18 second-half points. In addition to being far more aggressive defensively, with Brittney Griner serving as a deterrent around the basket with three blocked shots (changing other shots, as well), the U.S. was also more patient offensively. Instead of looking for the first available look and at at times settling in the first half, the U.S. was clinical offensively in the final 20 minutes.

Also reaching double figures were Angel McCoughtry (13 points), Elena Delle Donne (11) and Sylvia Fowles (ten), with Griner (seven rebounds), Delle Donne, Fowles and Charles (six rebounds apiece) all grabbing at least six rebounds on the night. Tokashiki led Japan in scoring with 14 points, with Mika Kurihara and Sanae Motokawa adding 12 apiece.