Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Taking a look back

Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to view USA Basketball's dealings up close and in person. I've made trips to Colorado Springs for junior national team trials dating back to the summer before Maya Moore's freshman season at UConn. But never have I been exposed to so many aspects of USA Basketball than I did from July 5-11.

It began when I took in the Under-17 national team practices at Flint Hill School in Virginia on July 5 and 6. I took advantage of my previously-made plans to talk to UConn commit Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and the seven other players on UConn's recruiting radar (rising seniors Betnijah Laney and Elizabeth Williams and rising juniors Jordan Adams, Jewell Loyd, Imani Stafford, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck) and wrote three stories off the access I received.

Coming back home, I headed to the U.S. national team practice on Thursday, was at the U.S. vs. WNBA all-star game Saturday and saved the best for last by attending the closed scrimmage between the U.S. and Australia national teams.

As promised in previous entries, I will share my thoughts off the scrimmage.

First, it took about half of one possession to realize that this was a real deal. There were no players in the house because their fans stuffed the ballot box or circumvented the fan balloting system with online voting programs and there was no sense of an all-star setting. This was serious basketball.

"It's who the USA (is) and it is who Australia (is)," Australia coach Carrie Graf said. "Even in a friendly, we are not going to roll over and not have a (go), that's not what we do. The U.S. is world class, they are the standard setter. History says that the U.S. and Australia, certainly in the last 20 years, have had wonderful contests at the international level. Plus, we are the nation who has the most internationals in the WNBA, a lot of our players and coaches have been a part of the WNBA and there is lot of friendship and respect between the players and coaches. There is a real healthy respect between the two nations and I think that benefits both (programs)."

Both teams were shorthanded. For Australia, Lauren Jackson sat out with a concussion while Penny Taylor limited her time because of a knee issue (not as a result of the shot to the head she absorbed courtesy of her former Phoenix Mercury teammate Cappie Pondexter in the Mercury's game against the New York Liberty). Pondexter and Sylvia Fowles had to join up with their WNBA teams for a game on Sunday while a knee issue kept Tamika Catchings out of the scrimmage. Still, each team dressed and played 15 players.

Diana Taurasi and Candice Dupree combined for all of the U.S. squad's points in a game-opening 13-7 run. Twice the U.S. led by as many as eight points in the first quarter. Australia, being 10 points from Jenna O'Hea, went on a 23-11 run before the U.S. answered back to take a 43-41 lead at halftime. Midway through the third quarter the U.S. held a five-point lead. From that point on both teams were trying out different combinations as younger players got a chance to showcase their skills.

The bottom line is that Australia's youngsters (in particular O'Hea and the relentless Marianna Tolo) outplayed their U.S. counterparts to lead Australia to an 87-72 win.

Neither head coach was as concerned about the final score as they were the chance to see their unproven players against top-flight competition although having covered seven of UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma's Final Four teams, I'd have to think he was a little irked at how the Australia players outhustled the U.S. players for loose balls and offensive rebounds in the second half.

"We knew that today was going to be where you could really evaluate some players," Auriemma said. "It is not about winning. If you try to win and don't make any evaluations, it's a waste of your effort. Today was about seeing who can play their way into contention for this team, in some cases who is going to play their way up or down. We were able to see some things and the key is where do we go from here."

On the U.S. side, it looked like Candice Dupree and Ebony Hoffman helped themselves the most. Dupree continued to prove she can finish inside as she did in the all-star game the day before. Hoffman, who is not even in the U.S. national team core group, was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal fourth-quarter performance. Here's what Auriemma had to say about Dupree and Hoffman.

"I feel like everybody knows what Candice is going to bring. One thing that was evident today is when you dont have Sylvia and you don't have Candace Parker, you just don't have enough big bodies in there with what we are going to be up against watching these guys play. Our undersized guys whether it is Candice Dupree, Swin Cash or Asjha Jones and those guys are going to have a huge challenge ahead of them to make the team, what position are they going to play, can they handle it, they all have different strengths and weaknesses."

"She (Hoffman) was a pleasant surprise. I hadn't seen her in a long time. I hadn't seen her since I coached her on the junior national team that one summer. She has made tremendous progress, she plays hard, she competes. I was pleasantly surprised by her."

On the other side, the American point guards not named Sue Bird didn't exactly have a day to remember. I've read the report of how well Lindsey Harding played and while her stats were nice (six points, three rebounds, three assists, three steals and no turnovers) I have to wonder if I was watching the same scrimmage. She wasn't able to get much going in the half-court sets when she was in the game. The same can be said for Renee Montgomery and Lindsay Whalen. All three tended to penetrate just for the sake of it, throw it out and hope for the best. Other than when Bird was in the game, the half-court offense seemed to work best when Kara Lawson was in the game. I was critical of the decision to put Lawson on the 2008 Olympic squad but I caught a glimpse why she made the team. She has an understated way of making things work with the U.S. squad. There's something to be said for knowing exactly what you are going to get from your backup point guard which is what you get with Lawson. It would not surprise me at all if Lawson finds her way on the squad which heads over to the Czech Republic in September for the FIBA World Championships for that reason and since Harding and Montgomery can be a bit erratic and erratic doesn't cut at against world powers like Australia and Russia.

Auriemma said both on Saturday and Sunday that he wouldn't mind another big guy on the world championship squad since the U.S. figures to be without Candace Parker. If Asjha Jones was healthy, she would be a solid choice but she is still working herself back into top form after missing time following surgery on the region around her Achilles tendon. Unless Hoffman is added to the national team roster (she is currently listed as a national team hopeful) I'm not sure that the U.S. has another big, bruising presence to call upon to go with Fowles and Tina Charles.

Maybe it's just me, but I'd like to see the U.S. add Stanford's Nneka Ogwumike and Jasmine Thomas of Duke to the player pool. Ogwumike has the size and athleticism to help out at power forward while Thomas could be groomed as the U.S. squad's point guard of the future but those are decisions for the committee which selects the U.S. squad. By the way, don't expect the world championship roster to be named until shortly before the team leaves for the Czech Republic.

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