Sue Bird

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Nneka Ogwumike, A’ja Wilson help U.S. women wear down college hoops opponents

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Stanford and Oregon State each managed to stick with the U.S. women’s basketball team for a little while but couldn’t match the scoring output of Nneka Ogwumike and A’ja Wilson in a pair of exhibition games on the West Coast.

On Saturday, Stanford led 20-15 after the first quarter but allowed 29 points in the second to fall behind 44-37. The Cardinal stayed within single digits, trailing only 68-62 after the third quarter, but the U.S. pulled away to a 95-80 win.

Ogwumike, a Stanford alum, was unstoppable on her former home floor. She hit 10 of 12 shots, missing only a pair of 3-pointers, to finish with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Wilson added 22 points, and Sue Bird had eight assists in her first U.S. game of 2019.

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Two days later, Chelsea Gray joined the team after getting married over the weekend and chipped in eight points and four assists to help the U.S. pulled away from Oregon State in the second half. The Beavers kept it close in the first half, trailing 36-31 at the half, but the U.S. shot 70.4% in the second half to take an 81-58.

Wilson led the scoring in the second game with 18 points and nine rebounds. Ogwumike had 17 points and six rebounds, while Sylvia Fowles shot 6-for-7 for 13 points.

The U.S. tour continues Thursday at Texas A&M and Saturday at Oregon. The team then departs for the FIBA Americas Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament in Argentina, though the U.S. has already qualified for the 2020 Olympics with its championship in the 2018 World Cup.

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Sue Bird hired by Denver Nuggets

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As Sue Bird works toward a potential fifth Olympics in 2020, she’ll have a new job: Denver Nuggets basketball operations associate.

The Nuggets announced the front-office hiring Friday, adding one of the most accomplished players in history. Bird had been tied to the team since mid-October, when she reportedly attended a practice.

“The best way to describe it is kind of like an apprenticeship,” Bird said on the R2C2 is Interrupted podcast published Wednesday. “They reached out. I had some mutual friends with the president there, Tim Connelly. He just kind of likes to keep athletes in the mix and likes to give them exposure and allow them to learn, give them that opportunity while they’re still playing. Music to my ears.”

Bird, who will be 40 in 2020 and three years older than any previous U.S. Olympic basketball player, is coming off her 16th WNBA season with the Seattle Storm, winning her third title. She also started all five of her games at the world championship in September, earning an eighth career Olympic or world gold medal.

Going into Rio, Bird said it would likely be her last Olympics. But in 2017, she said that she would continue playing for Team USA as long as USA Basketball asks. No younger point guard has unseated her on the national team.

“I’m on a timeline of my health, so as long as that’s still going, I’m going to still go,” Bird said on the podcast, adding that she will want to keep it a secret when she knows she’s playing her last season. “If I could squeeze out a couple more years, that would be great.”

The NBA has recently opened up roles for women. Most notably, Russian Olympian Becky Hammon became the first full-time female assistant coach in the U.S.’ four major team sports leagues with the San Antonio Spurs and later was head coach of their summer league team.

Nancy Lieberman, a 1976 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, and Kristi Toliver, who plays internationally for Slovakia, have worked as assistants with the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards, respectively.

The WNBA season typically starts in mid-May, when the NBA playoffs are happening.

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MORE: Candace Parker finished with USA Basketball

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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.”

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