USA Basketball Showcase is Ideal Preparation for Olympics
However, the true purpose of the exhibition games against France, Canada and Australia is not simply to provide emotional homecoming scenes. With a limited amount of time to prepare, UConn and U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma loves the fact that the U.S. team will be squaring off with three teams who could be in the medal hunt at next month's Olympic tournament.
"I won't be surprised if they all compete for the three medal spots, that is how good they are so we are seeing the best that is out there," Auriemma said after the 84-62 win over France. "There are more good teams, don't get me wrong but these aren't just 'friendlies' where we are trying to break a sweat and name the score. These are teams that are going to make you work really hard for everything. If nothing else, I think it gets you in the right mindset moving forward. We are not going to going to Rio coasting on false confidence. Whatever we get done here it going to be real and it is going to carry us a long way."
The first exhibition game was not against a potential Olympic opponent but a matchup against the USA Select squad, a group of WNBA stars in their mid 20s all eager to show the folks at USA Basketball that they deserve to be in the equation for future Olympic squads. What happened was an entertaining offensive showcase that for lack of a better term reminded me of "pond hockey" where there was little structure but plenty of 1 on 1 play.
"Today was more like what they are used to and what we are going to be seeing," Auriemma said. "I knew our effort was going to be different than it was against the Select team. We would get a lot more production from a lot more people. We can also guard plays, the Select team didn't run any plays, they just ran up and down and had some fun. It is hard to play against teams like that and it also got our attention too and that is never bad."
The U.S was a bit sluggish offensively in the first half but it was a different story in the second half and especially during the 31-point third quarter.
"I think, offensively (we improved) in terms of getting out of each other’s way," Diana Taurasi said. Defensively, we played with a little bit more energy, with a certain edge that we didn’t have against the Select Team."
If there was one memorable defensive play it was Brittney Griner's emphatic block when she was in the low post and used her incredible wing span to block a shot on the perimeter drawing a huge reaction from the U.S. bench with Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen leading the way.
"Blocking shots is one thing I can always rely on whether I am stepping on the ball, fumbling the ball or just not catching the ball, I can always rely on defense," said Griner, who did not attempt a shot in 6:24 of action. "I might not be always able to score but I can make sure you can't score either.
I love blocking shots more than dunking so when I get one, I want to get it again so I was happy about that."