Diana Taurasi

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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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U.S. crushes Australia for FIBA World Cup three-peat, Olympic berth

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There were reasons to believe the dominant U.S. women’s basketball team would be challenged by Australia in the FIBA World Cup final.

The Americans’ slow starts in the last two games against Nigeria (trailed 17-9 after one quarter) and Belgium (behind 26-21 after the first). Australia’s play this tournament, winning its five games by an average of 26.8 points (5.8 greater than the U.S.’ margin).

Australian superstar Liz Cambage — a tournament-leading 27.2 points per game on 68 percent shooting for the WNBA scoring leader. The names missing from the U.S. roster — Maya MooreSylvia Fowles and Candace Parker, most notably.

Doubts faded in the first three minutes.

The Americans ran out 10-0. Australia missed its first eight shots in Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa.

The U.S., despite shooting just 25 percent in the first half, never ceded the lead en route to a 73-56 win. It’s the first nation to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic tournament.

The U.S. three-peated as world champion for the first time. Semifinal upsets in 1994 and 2006 torpedoed previous attempts.

“It’s probably been the most competitive World Cup we’ve ever played in,” said Diana Taurasi, who played in her fourth worlds.

The Americans are undefeated at the Olympics and worlds since that 2006 semifinal loss to Russia — 46 straight victories. They’re now 18-0 against Australia, considered their longtime rival, at the Olympics and worlds. Cambage had a quiet seven points Sunday.

Brittney Griner (15 points) and Taurasi (13) were the top scorers, but Breanna Stewart deserves first mention of the Americans for the tournament. She led the team per game in points (16.3) and minutes (27) and was named MVP.

“Stewie at the start of this year, so we are talking like April, really decided what she wanted to do with her basketball career,” Seattle Storm teammate Sue Bird said, according to USA Basketball. “She wanted to be an MVP. She wanted to win a championship. She wanted to come here and put her mark on USA Basketball.

In 2014, Stewart was last on the team with 1.8 points per game at worlds, mostly there to gain experience as a rising UConn junior. She was also the youngest 2016 Olympian, playing the second-fewest minutes on the team. Now she’s the reigning WNBA MVP and Finals MVP.

“It’s not a bad way to cap things off,” Stewart said, according to USA Basketball, “and now it is time for a little vacation.”

Stewart took Moore’s place in the starting lineup and might not let it go. Moore, who started all 14 games between the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, skipped this World Cup after an exhausting year playing in Europe and then the WNBA.

“This kid played out of position this entire tournament,” Bird said of the 6-foot-4 Stewart. “She was playing the three. Trust me when I tell you, she’ll tell you, too, she ain’t a three.”

Bird, the second-oldest American in a global tournament in the Olympic women’s basketball era (since 1976; Jennifer Gillom, 38 in 2002), broke head coach Dawn Staley‘s record for career World Cup assists.

If Bird makes the 2020 Olympic team (likely given she started all five of her games in Tenerife), she will break Tamika Catchings‘ record as the oldest U.S. Olympic basketball player of either gender.

Both Bird and Taurasi repeated after the game regarding Tokyo 2020: If USA Basketball calls on them, they won’t say no.

“You never know if you’re going to be back,” Bird said, according to USA Basketball. “I really just want to cherish these moments.”

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

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Diana Taurasi’s near-best scoring day leads U.S. into FIBA World Cup final

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Diana Taurasi had her highest scoring day in a major tournament in 12 years, leading the U.S. into the FIBA World Cup final in a 93-77 semifinal win over Belgium on Saturday.

Taurasi, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, scored 26 points, her second-highest total in 61 career games between the Olympics and worlds (28 in the 2006 World bronze-medal game). Breanna Stewart added 20. A full box score is here.

Taurasi’s barrage came a day after she scored two points against Nigeria, her lowest total since her fourth game for the U.S. at the 2004 Olympics, when she was 22 years old and the youngest U.S. Olympic women’s player in 16 years. Taurasi played 12 minutes against the African champion, picking up four fouls with a technical.

Her 350 career World Cup points rank third among Americans all time behind Lisa Leslie (393) and Teresa Edwards (371). Leslie’s record appears safe with one game left in Taurasi’s likely last worlds.

The U.S. gets Australia in Sunday’s final with a third straight world title and the first Olympic qualifying berth at stake.

The Aussies, led by WNBA scoring leader Liz Cambage, beat Spain 72-66 in the later semifinal. Cambage had 33 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks.

“Probably Australia has been the best team in this tournament,” Taurasi said, according to USA Basketball.

Australia is 0-17 against the U.S. at the Olympics and worlds. This is the first gold-medal game between the rivals since the 2008 Olympics.

The U.S. started slowly for a second straight game in its semi, one day after trailing Nigeria for most of the first half.

Belgium led 26-21 after the first quarter and trailed by one at the half. The Americans took control with a 33-18 third quarter.

This American team is without stalwarts from its previous decade of undefeated play at the Olympics and worlds. Tamika Catchings and Lindsay Whalen retired after Rio. Candace Parker said she will not play for Team USA again after being left off the 2016 Olympic team.

Minnesota Lynx stars Seimone AugustusSylvia Fowles and Maya Moore, as well as Angel McCoughtry, are reportedly either resting or recuperating from injuries following the WNBA season.

Belgium, which will play for bronze, has been the revelation of the World Cup, its first appearance at a global championship. The Cats had zero world ranking points before it took bronze at 2017 EuroBasket, jumping from outside the top 77 in the world to No. 28 going into the World Cup.

The Belgians won their World Cup group, knocking off host Spain by nine points. Spain is ranked second in the world, the 2014 World and 2016 Olympic silver medalist. They routed France by 21 points in the quarterfinals. France is ranked third in the world.

The team is led by 6-foot-4 center Emma Meesseman, a 2015 WNBA All-Star with the Washington Mystics who skipped the 2018 WNBA season to focus on the national team. Guards Kim Mestdagh (fourth on Colorado State’s career points list and a daughter of Belgium’s head coach) and Julie Allemand (2016 Indiana Fever third-round draft pick, but no WNBA experience) are also threats.

Ann Wauters, a 37-year-old reserve center, spent nine years in the WNBA, making the 2005 All-Star Game.

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

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