The U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team played its first exhibition game in more than two months on Monday night, and the extended inactivity showed with uneven possessions and in the early going against Brazil even a hint of vulnerability.
Accustomed to winning by outsize margins, the United States wasn’t able to pull away until late in the second quarter at Verizon Center, underscoring Coach Geno Auriemma’s concern that his charges are still seeking an identity less than two weeks before their opener in London.
The 99-67 victory included offensive miscues that predictably followed just two practices since the United States last played on May 12, beating China, 100-62, in Seattle. Soon after, every U.S. representative resumed playing with her WNBA team and only days ago began the Olympic break.
The U.S. team arrived in the District on Friday and practiced over the weekend in preparation for Brazil. Such little time together compelled Auriemma to keep his offensive sets simple while implementing full-court pressure intended to yield easy baskets.
“We’re just trying to find each other, trying to learn a little bit about each other,” Auriemma said. “There were moments when we looked really, really good, and there were moments when we really struggled at both ends of the floor.”
The defensive blueprint began unfolding to plan right away, with the United States forcing eight turnovers in the first quarter. The scoring, meantime, came inside and out from a lineup that includes six members from the 2008 gold medal team and the reigning WNBA most valuable player, Tamika Catchings, and rookie of the year Maya Moore.
The starting back court of Diana Taurasi and Lindsay Whalen was especially effective, getting open shots with Brazil collapsing to protect the rim from the likes of centers Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles and forward Candace Parker.
Whalen finished with 21 points to match a game high and played 29 minutes, the most on the U.S. team. Whalen started in place of three-time Olympian Sue Bird, who left on Sunday night because of a death in her family.
Taurasi, meantime, added 16 points and a game-high seven assists, particularly good news considering the three-time gold medal winner had missed the last 16 games of the WNBA season with a hip flexor and sore ankle.
The U.S. bench combined for 43 points as the lead swelled to 25 several times during the third quarter. By early in the fourth, Auriemma was inserting the reserves with more regularity when the United States went ahead by as many as 34 points.
Backup forward Seimone Augustus scored 12 points, and Charles and Moore, former teammates at Connecticut, each chipped in 11 points. Charles also had a team-high 10 rebounds.
The United States forced 29 turnovers, limited Brazil to 32 percent shooting and got to the free throw line 12 more times than its opponent. The Americans shot 47 percent and had 27 assists on 35 field goals, although they committed 22 turnovers.
“I think we have a chance, I think we have the ability and the opportunity to put together a month of great basketball,” Taurasi said. “We have the talent. We have the togetherness of liking each other and wanting to be really good, and those are things that a lot of teams don’t have.”
More on the London Olympics:
Men’s hoops: U.S. men shut down Brazil
Graphic: Splitting seconds at the Games
Men’s hoops: Coach ‘K’ gets superstars to buy in
Men’s hoops: Practice has midnight madness feel
Women’s hoops: ‘It’s like U-Conn. on steroids’
Women’s hoops: Parker-Fowles-Charles a versatile post trio