Nigerian press all over the field and defensive tenacity seemed to catch the US team off guard from the start of the game. At the end of the first quarter, Nigeria were leading 20-17 and had forced eight American turnovers. Eventually, however, Team USA was able to adjust to the pressure, started working the ball inside and took full control. At one point in the second quarter, they pulled off a 23-0 streak and built a double-digit lead at the break. While they became a bit lazy towards the end of the fourth quarter, the United States team had full control throughout the second half and were never in danger of losing the game.
Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson led the way for Team USA with 19 points, 13 rebounds, two steals and two blocks in a dominant indoor performance. Front row partner Brittney Griner added a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Diana Taurasi was the only other double-digit player with 10 points.
Here are four key points of the game:
1. 50 consecutive Olympic victories
Dynasties are generally viewed in terms of club teams, but if you broaden the discussion internationally, there’s no doubt that the United States women’s basketball team is one of the best of all. time, whatever the sport, male or female. With their victory over Nigeria on Tuesday, they extended their Olympic winning streak to an incredible 50 games.
It goes back to the bronze medal match at the 1992 Olympics, when they beat Cuba. Since then, they have won six straight gold medals without losing a single game and are aiming for seventh in a row in Tokyo. If successful, they will equal the United States men’s basketball team’s record of seven consecutive gold medals from 1936 to 1968.
2. Too many turnover
Earlier this month, Team USA suffered a shocking loss in a pre-Olympic exhibition match against Australia. One of the main reasons for the loss was that they couldn’t deal with the ball. They coughed 18 times, which led to 14 points for the Australians.
As they took the victory over Nigeria on Tuesday, turnovers were once again a problem. Nigeria’s relentless pressure from top to bottom on the pitch pissed off the American team, especially early on as they forced eight American turnovers in the first quarter alone. The USA team eventually adjusted and figured out a few things, but they were still way too careless with the ball for most of the game.
In the end, the United States team finished with 25 turnovers, which is one of the main reasons Nigeria had 16 more shooting attempts. It didn’t matter because Team USA’s talent won out, but they won’t be able to get away with better competition later in the tournament.
3. Wilson and Griner dominate inside
As by far the most talented team in the world, Team USA has advantages all over the field. But perhaps the most obvious is in the painting, where they’re too big and too talented for everyone else in the world – especially now that Australia is without Liz Cambage.
This was certainly true against Nigeria, as the United States team won the rebound battle by a wide margin, 61-41, and scored 36 points in the paint. Just take a look at this table of baskets made by each team and you will quickly get an idea. The US team scored 29 field goals, and 18 of them were in the paint.
Reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson and Brittney Griner are leading the way. This duo each achieved a double-double and combined for 32 points, 23 rebounds, four assists, three steals and four blocks. And that doesn’t even take into account how many shots they tweaked, which for Griner in particular was important.
Nigeria simply had no answer for either of them, and it was obvious once the USA team were able to consistently give them the ball. These two should continue to feast as the tournament progresses. The next group player is Japan, which doesn’t have a single player taller than 6-1 / 1.
4. Bird runs the show
Sue Bird went 0-6 on the field and didn’t score in that game, but she was one of Team USA’s most important players on the evening. While she finished with zero points, she also finished with 13 assists and the United States team had a plus-20 differential when they were on the pitch. The single plus-minus game isn’t always the best tool, but it accurately tells the story here.
On a night when the United States struggled to cope with Nigeria’s defensive pressure and was sloppy with the ball, Bird was their usual calm. Only two of the team’s 25 turnovers came from her, and it was her play that sparked the key 23-0 second-quarter streak that turned the game around. During that streak, Bird assisted on five of the nine baskets of the American team.
Still one of the top playmakers, Bird – who hit 100 Olympic assists in that game – has won four straight gold medals and is aiming for a fifth here in Tokyo with Diana Taurasi. If Team USA wins everything, these two will become the first basketball players to win five gold medals.