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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Looking back at U.S. intrasquad scrimmage

Whoever made the final call on the way the teams were divided up for last night's U.S. women's national team intrasquad scrimmage in Delaware should take a bow because the game was entertaining and competitive right down to the very end.

Former Connecticut Sun guard Lindsay Whalen had 15 points and 11 assists while Angel McCoughtry led five players in double figures with 16 points as the Red team defeated the White 95-87.

Nneka Ogwumike led the White team with 26 points (on 13 of 15 shooting) and 12 rebounds. Former UConn star Tina Charles had 18 points and eight rebounds while current UConn star Breanna Stewart finished with 10 points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal and one blocked shot.

The team is now headed for Connecticut. After spending today at ESPN headquarters in Bristol and getting a day off, the squad will hold a practice at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport on Sunday before facing Canada at the same location in the final U.S.-based event before the team heads to Europe to prepare for the FIBA World Championship for Women.

If the WNBA championship series ending tonight that would bring the number of players available for the Canada game to 24 so there's a decent possibility that a few cuts will be made before the friendly against Canada.

It will be interesting to see how the selection committee proceeds especially if the WNBA series doesn't end tonight. Personaly, If Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne are healthy enough to proceed I would have to think they would be on the 12-member team along with Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles. If the rest of the available members from 2012 Olympic team are picked (which is a reasonable assumption) that leaves two available spots. In my opinion those spots could come down to front-court players. There are no lack of options. Although the committee is not going to base their picks solely off one intrasquad scrimmage, Nneka Ogwumike was spectacular last night, Candice Dupree was a shocking omission from the 2012 Olympic team in my eyes especially after she was the team's fourth-leading scorer and top rebounder at the 2010 World Championships and her play in the WNBA playoffs is a reminder of how incredibly talented she is. Then there is Stewart who has an incredible future in the sport and will be a mainstay on the U.S. national team for years but only time will tell if her tenure begins with this current four-year cycle.  It's going to be interesting to see what the 12-player roster (likely not to be finalized until the team is in Europe) is going to look like.

Here are quotes from U.S. and UConn head coach Geno Auriemma as well as former UConn stars Sue Bird and Maya Moore courtesy of USA Basketball.

GENO AURIEMMA
On the significance of tonight’s game being played on 9/11:
From a USA Basketball National Team standpoint, we know what we have to do. We know that we have a finite time to do it. We make a commitment for a short period of time. By October 5, this will all be over for us. But what I think what days like today do is to try to instill in our players that it’s never over. Once you’re part of USA Basketball, once you make that commitment to be a part of our national team, it’s never over. Your commitment to the national team lasts forever. It’s just that sometimes you’re playing and sometimes you’re not. Sometimes you’re part of the team that’s competing that year and sometimes you’re not. That’s the lesson that comes from being associated with the servicemen and women in our country: that that commitment is not only when you’re in active service, but it’s a lifetime commitment that you make.
Having it on September 11, it is significant, obviously, for all the reasons that we know. Sometimes we make it so that we have short memories and September 11 we want to think about and honor what happened on 9/11. And yet the rest of the year we may not give it the respect that it deserves. I think sometimes that’s true of our servicemen and women. That when it’s Veteran’s Day or when it’s a special occasion, you think about the commitment and the service that they make and we don’t do it the other days. We try to teach our players that it is a lifetime, 24/7, 12 months out of the year commitment and a day like today reinforces that for us. And the exchange of the dog tags and the coin that we had with the servicemen and women, that’s so that our players know that when they’re overseas and they’re competing for their country, that they’re not alone and that they represent the people that make this country what it is. It’s as much of an emotional and symbolic gesture as it is a reminder to them of who we are and what we stand for.

(Question inaudible)
When two great teams are playing against each other and we’re planning to win the gold medal, so we’re planning what would happen in the semifinals and finals, not that the other team’s aren’t as good, but those are the games that we really get tested, because those are the best teams that are left. Whatever play you want to run, whatever play you draw up, it’s not going to work. They’ve scouted it, they’ve studied it, they know what they’re planning for, they’ve game planned for it, so you go in thinking like these guys (military) do, there’s a Plan A, but there’s a Plan B, C and D, and we feel like against the best teams, your plays are not necessarily going to work. So what does work is individuals making great plays. So, when you have people like Sue (Bird) and Lindsay (Whalen) in the backcourt, they can see when something is just about ready to break down and then they make a play and make it all look great. Then you add to that, players that they can pass to that can make plays. Angel McCoughtry and Maya Moore are great playmakers, not just finishers. You saw some of that today. We try to attract people that have that in them and then try to reinforce it.
What struck you about tonight, especially some of the younger players?
When we had this training camp in Las Vegas (in Oct. 2013), none of the Olympians participated, so all the young guys looked really good. And we all went away from there going ‘wow. We have some great young players, you should see these guys, they’re really, really good.’ Then, when the Olympians came back and we put them on the floor with the young guys, all of a sudden the young guys didn’t look so good. There’s a real gap between some of the players that have won two or three Olympic gold medals and the young guys that are trying to make the team. There’s a gap there.
But, having said that, there’s an athletic ability. There’s a youthful kind of hunger to play and somebody like Nneka (Ogwumike) who has not ever played on the national team, she did things today that makes you appreciate who she is and what she is. Everybody had their moments. Everybody had their moments. The young players all had moments where they looked great and they all had moments where they struggled. Now you have to look at, when those players that are in the pool who aren’t here, when they come back it’s going to be even harder for some of these younger guys. So, we’ve got our work cut out for us to find who that final 12 is going to be.

SUE BIRD
On tonight’s game and what the halftime ceremony meant:
The game I thought was great. Obviously you’re playing against each other and that can actually be harder than playing against other countries because we’re so familiar with one another, we run the same plays, so we cheat a little bit. But overall I think we got into a groove there.  And as far as the halftime ceremony, as you can see we are all very excited about our dog tags. Really just this whole week, being able to meet some of the members of the military and learn about them. There are so many similarities between us as athletes and them as members of the military. It’s really been a unique opportunity to first hand to get to learn about those things, so overall it has been a lot of fun
On playing for Geno the Olympic coach vs. Geno the college coach:
I think the better answer or question to your question is that it is really an adjustment for him in a lot of ways more so than it is for us. Obviously we played for him for four years, for me, I have been out of school a lot longer. And for all of us when you are in the WNBA you fall into that pattern, you play a certain way, a certain style, you are used to certain things, it’s a professional game, it’s different. So in a lot of ways he has to take his style of play and adjust to us, not necessarily the other way around. I think now it is, I guess, his fifth year with the national team and he has really done a great job. He has figured out a way to relate to us in other ways that maybe wouldn’t work if he was working with college kids, the same thing’s not going to work and I think he really has done a great job of adjusting and making us play his way without even know it, so I give him a lot of credit for that.
How do you feel about the chemistry and how well the team is already coming together?
One thing that I love about playing for USA Basketball is that you obviously have a collection of the best players in the country, without a doubt. But, we’re also very unselfish. There is not one player out there who is trying to make a play for their self. That’s something that coach Auriemma believes in and harps on. It works. It’s a perfect fit because every single player we had out there was really just trying to make the right play. What you saw is an example of that, us trying to make the right play. And because there’s so much talent, you might see spectacular things now and then. But really, it’s just about reading and reacting. You mentioned Lindsay (Whalen), Maya (Moore), myself, as well as many other players. Us three, we’re kind of veterans in this now. We’re kind of comfortable. I think we understand our own games, we understand each other’s games and how to make that work within a team setting. So, to be able to put it together this quickly is somewhat surprising, but not really.

MAYA MOORE
On tonight’s game and what the halftime ceremony meant:
Totally I thought as the game went on you could see people getting more and more comfortable with each other and what we were running. That was the first time we played those plays and what we have been running in the game so the second half I thought was really exciting, there were some great plays made.
Like Sue said, this whole week has been really, I think humbling for all of us to be around so many men and women that serve and remind us of how much we represent these men and women who are putting their lives on the line and training and sacrificing some of their comforts for our freedoms is pretty much the motivation that any of us need to go out and work and fight and compete as hard as we can. So we carry those memories with us and this is very symbolic of what we have experienced this week and hopefully will continue to experience.

On playing for Geno the Olympic coach vs. Geno the college coach:
I found that I hear him in my head when I’m playing even though he’s not really yelling at me.
(reporter says “when you are in Minnesota?” to which Maya responds: “When I’m eating lunch, no,  I’m just kidding.”)
It is really actually pretty cool to come back as a pro and just to remember where I came from and all the things I’m doing well now, and all the things that Sue is doing well now, is a reason because of him and the Connecticut players and the other coaches that we were blessed to play with for our four years there. So all those little things that he harps on, he is really a great teacher of the fundamentals of basketball, and so that’s really refreshing actually to come back because you don’t necessarily have that time in the W to really focus on those fundamentals. So I have really enjoyed that and I think the players that really enjoy the game, which is all of us, enjoy that getting back to the basics and he does such a great job of teaching it. So like I said it is pretty refreshing whereas in Connecticut I wouldn’t call it refreshing, it’s hard because you are learning it hardcore, maybe for the first time, as a college student.

How do you feel about the chemistry and how well the team is already coming together?



Basketball is basketball. When you have great players, great plays are going to happen. What coach Auriemma puts us in offensively, it puts every player in a position to shine and to do their best. Also, we’re very familiar with each other. We’ve played with and against each other for so long. I know when Angel (McCoughtry) is streaking down the court, throw it at the rim and she’ll go get it and put it in. So, it’s really fun. I get excited to find as many ways to make those passes, because usually that’s the person I’m trying to beat. It’s been really fun for all of us to share the ball with each other and knowing a great finisher is on the other side.

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