In its final exhibition tuneup on American soil before heading to France to continue training for the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, the U.S. national team got strong performances from A’ja Wilson and Nneka Ogwumike to pull away from Japan for a 102-87 win Monday night at Smith Center.
Wilson finished with a game-high 26 points on 10-for-15 shooting, and Ogwumike added 22 points and 10 rebounds for a team that was without the majority of its projected starters, a handful of whom are playing in the WNBA Finals between the Washington Mystics and Seattle Storm.
Diana Taurasi and Britney Griner, whose WNBA season ended recently when the Phoenix Mercury lost to the Storm in the WNBA semifinals, are scheduled to join the team when it arrives Wednesday in the French Riviera to continue training.
Team USA is expected to trim its roster to 12 by Tuesday from its current 20 players, but that won’t be the group that necessarily goes to Spain for the World Cup near the end of this month.
“They’re in positions where we would love to be in, but honestly we just have to keep this train going,” Wilson said of the Team USA players participating in the WNBA Finals. “I think our mind-set now is getting the win. That’s the beauty of playing for Team USA. We all want to win gold.”
Team USA outscored Japan by 17 points in the fourth quarter in front of an announced crowd of 2,029 that included many of the sport’s luminaries, including University of Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma.
Also in attendance were Mystics Coach Mike Thibault and Seattle players Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, the reigning WNBA MVP. Both are locks to make the U.S. national team, as is Washington forward Elena Delle Donne if she elects to participate in the wake of a bone bruise in her left knee.
The Mystics and Storm are set to play Game 3 of the WNBA Finals on Wednesday night at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, with Seattle leading the best-of-five series two games to none.
The U.S. national team is well behind the majority of the other countries competing at the FIBA World Cup. Japan, for instance, has been training together since April. Team USA only began its training camp Sept. 3 to accommodate the WNBA schedule.
“We have to get all on one page because we don’t have a whole lot of prep time,” said Team USA Coach Dawn Staley, who coached Wilson at the University of South Carolina. “A lot of our time together on the court playing games is times in which we have to make adjustments. We just need experience playing together.”