LAS VEGAS – Dallas Wings goaltender Arike Ogunbowale smiled broadly but didn’t take the hook. After helping the WNBA to beat the USA 93-85 on Wednesday and winning the MVP of the League All-Star award, she didn’t say, “Yeah, maybe I should have. being part of the Olympic team ”when asked if that was on his mind. .
“You all want drama,” Ogunbowale said with a laugh during his post-game video call after scoring 26 points, a game-high. “Good luck to Team USA. So all these girls deserve… you know, I hope they win a gold medal. “
The 24-year-old former Notre Dame star will likely be part of the U.S. team for the 2024 Olympics. But on Wednesday, she and the WNBA team did their best to prepare the U.S. Americans will face off in the upcoming Tokyo Games as they seek the program’s seventh consecutive gold medal.
In fact, there is so much talent in the United States, the WNBA team members – who were voted into a pool by WNBA fans, media and players, and then selected by league coaches. for this match – would have a big chance at gold if they went to the Olympics instead.
But the group that will make the trip, selected by USA Basketball last month, saw Wednesday’s contest as a chance to find out more about themselves. The US team have two more opportunities to do so here in Las Vegas: they face Australia on Friday and Nigeria on Sunday in exhibitions at the Michelob Ultra Arena in Mandalay Bay.
“It was, in some ways, another training for us,” said USA goaltender Sue Bird of Seattle, who will compete in her fifth Olympics. “These are the times when you find out what to work on.
“For the coaches, they have to determine which group is the most consistent. These things always take a whole training camp, months or years. And we try to do it in a matter of days or weeks. It was only the first step. We learn from it and move forward. I think we have learned that we are not yet a team. “
As everyone had predicted, this was not a typical All-Star Game in which players goof up a lot and defense is optional at best. There was some real defense played out on Wednesday, including late steals and counterattack points that helped the WNBA team hold onto the win.
The WNBA team was coached by Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson, two former WNBA greats and Olympic teammates of US team coach Dawn Staley. Thompson is the coach of the Virginia women’s team and the coaches of Staley in South Carolina. They are all good friends who won Olympic gold together and are members of the Naismith Hall of Fame, and it was clear that they were all taking this game seriously as well.
“When we got into the practice, Tina and Lisa were like, ‘What’s the plan, what do you all want to do? “” Said Jonquel Jones of Team WNBA Connecticut, who could also have been MVP with 18 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. “Everyone said, ‘We want to give them a good game, prepare them for [the] Olympic Games.’ But also, just to compete and show that we are also at this level. I am proud that we were able to do it. “
Both teams had missing players: Las Vegas center Liz Cambage for the WNBA team and Phoenix goaltender Diana Taurasi for the United States team. Cambage has had Achilles tendon issues and wants to be as healthy as possible for the Olympics, where she will play for Australia. Likewise, Taurasi suffered a hip injury and said she wanted to be ready for Tokyo.
Wednesday’s game turned out to be more enjoyable for Cambage, being on the winning side.
“I was fortunate enough to still be on the bench today, enjoying my popcorn and watching some great basketball,” Cambage said.
Taurasi, who like Bird will compete in her fifth Olympics, echoed her longtime American teammate. The Americans’ Olympic opener is July 27 against Nigeria.
“At the end of the day, we are here for a bigger goal than winning an All-Star game,” Taurasi said. “We will improve over time. “
ESPN’s Kelly Cohen contributed to this report.