SYDNEY — Some players are taking on entirely new roles. Some are completely new to the team. Others have just arrived in Australia a few days ago.

But while many faces have changed, the results for USA Basketball are largely the same in the first four games of the 2022 FIBA ​​Women’s World Cup. The Americans are undefeated in group play with one game to go and they look to be title favorites as they claim a fourth consecutive gold medal in the event. And after Monday’s slow start against South Korea, the United States bounced back to a Women’s World Cup-record 145 points in a 76-point win.

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Without national team legends such as Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Sylvia Fowles, Brittney Griner and Tina Charles, Team USA is younger—only Alyssa Thomas is in her 30s—faster, fitter, more versatile, and more. defensive nature than in recent years. The American women look relatively tight-knit given their limited time together — the final members of the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces joined the team as recently as Thursday — although Saturday’s 77-63 win over China tested their composure and ability to act against a relentlessly frustrated team.

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It was a whirlwind of preparation for the gold medal: Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Kalea Copper were not with the team at the training camp in Las Vegas in early September, but instead met with the team in Sydney. Kelsey Plum, one of three aces on the list who celebrated their title at the Las Vegas parade last Tuesday, said she bought Wi-Fi on a 15-hour flight to Australia so she could learn the team plan. Watching Thursday’s 106-42 victory over Puerto Rico, WNBA Finals MVP Chelsea Gray said she realized she needed to change her mindset and separate everything Vegas-related “to the nth degree.” Aja Wilson, 2022 WNBA MVP, rallied for a brilliant performance against China less than 24 hours after arriving in Australia, but admitted: “I don’t know how I do it … I need to study the offense.” … I’m exhausted.”

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Their game against winless Bosnia and Herzegovina to close out the group game is unlikely to be competitive, which gives American coach Cheryl Reeve the opportunity to experiment with rotations and make the players feel more comfortable with each other (and the Aces players in particular are more accustomed to others). groups) before the playoffs. The victory over China has already provided the US team with access to the quarterfinals.

So what have we learned about US women? Which players are active? And what other countries are most capable of challenging American basketball?

Does the defense win championships?

Defending hasn’t been the hallmark of Team USA in recent years, especially when it comes to Byrd and Taurasi defending the perimeter. But players like Ariel Atkins, Loyd and Copper, and defender Thomas have turned defense into their calling card. The Americans average 13.3 interceptions per game, and they use the pressure of the ball to force opponents to lose the ball. Even in their closest game, Team USA beat China, who averaged 102.5 points, for a total of 63 points.

The United States limited opponents to 17 points or less in all but two quarters in the first three games, but uncharacteristically trailed 40 points in the first half to South Korea. Reeve found their start on Monday to be undisciplined defensively as the Americans allowed South Korea to knock them down with fake shots and hit a home run instead of staying in front of their player.

The group’s effort improved when the bench line-up of Copper, Atkins, Plum and Brionna Jones was added along with Thomas. This five caused pressure, which added another level of defensive dominance to the team, which spurred the offense. By the end of the game, the United States had 94 paint points and eight players in double figures.

Team USA forward Breanna Stewart said chemistry develops fastest in defense and that playing against other competitive defenders forces everyone to keep up with their teammates. Loyd added that the lack of playing time together ahead of the World Cup has in turn led to more on-court communication.

The consistency of US basketball and continued growth at this end of the floor, which should only improve once Wilson, the 2022 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, enters fully, may encourage the Americans to take home the gold later this week.

Riva rotation

Reeve used all nine players who were in the country at the time in the first two games of the U.S. Women’s Tournament, although none of the games came close by the second half. With the Aces trio back in the rotation against China with Grey, Plum and Wilson posting times of 18 to 26 minutes, Reeve used a nine-man rotation with Jones, Sabrina Ionescu and Shakira Austin seeing no time.

In the match against South Korea, Jones came off the bench early – Reeve noted that her absence from the match against China was more a product of “playing type [getting] away from us. She’ll be part of the rotation.” Austin, who stands out for her height, floor-running ability and glass dominance, and Ionescu appeared in the second and fourth quarters respectively.

“We have 12 players that I’m trying to get minutes for. In terms of the depth chart, that’s where it is,” Reeve said of Ionescu. “So for her, this is her first time making the national team, the first experience, and just based on the amount of work, you should have 11 and 12, right? She did a great job with it and helps her. the team is getting ready and I thought she was really good at her moments [vs. South Korea].”

The way Reeve continues to work in his backcourt and use his ball carriers will be something to keep an eye on throughout the tournament, especially as the competition gets tougher.

Reeve replaced Atkins with Gray in the starting five on the latter’s arrival (to start alongside Loyd, Copper, Thomas and Stewart), and while Wilson started South Korea in place of Copper, Copper took Loyd’s place, coming out in the second half. .

No player averages more than 24.5 minutes per game (Loyd), and seven players — Loyd, Thomas, Stewart, Copper, Jones, Plum, and Wilson — average at least 20 minutes. With eight games in 10 days, the more Reeve can distribute playing time between his players, the better.

Which American players stood out?

Breanna Stewart: The ever-steady Stewart — the most experienced member of the team now playing in its third World Championship and captaining the team — did a little bit of everything, averaging 14.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 1 .5 blocks in 23.2 minutes per game. She helped carry the load before Wilson arrived and continues to show she can make an impact in many ways.

Alyssa Thomas: Everyone knew that Stewart and Wilson would play a big role in US basketball in this new era. But the appearance of Thomas, who made his US basketball debut at a major international tournament, as the heartbeat of Team USA was less expected. Her defensive intensity is “really vital to establishing [the team’s overall defensive] personality,” Reeve said, and Thomas’s desire to get the ball and race around the court is perfect for Reeve’s style of play.

Thomas could come off the bench if Reeve decides to field Wilson alongside Stewart, but either way she leads the team in minutes (26.4 per game), averaging a whopping 4.3 steals per game. Her 61.8% shooting from the floor on 8.5 attempts per game ranks third on the team, behind only Connecticut Sun teammate Jones (74.1%) and Wilson (68%).

Aya Wilson: At the pre-game shootout with China, Reeve thought Wilson looked like she was dizzy. After such a long flight and just days after she won her first WNBA title, Wilson was just trying to figure out what games her new team wanted to play.

Reeve spoke to Wilson about her role, and Wilson said she’s okay with coming off the bench to make things easier for herself. What did it look like in the end? Wilson had 20 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks. She had a slow start but kicked in just when the team needed her, scoring the last eight US points of the game to keep the growing Chinese team from getting any closer than nine. Against South Korea, Wilson finished an effective 10-for-11 field goal in just 15 minutes.

Honorable Mention: Kalea Copper: She went from no national team experience to the best +/- of any U.S. player playing all four games with a score of 27.3. Her athleticism in approaching the rim, whether on the transition or on the half court, and her ability to defend herself add an element of Team USA that was lacking in Tokyo. Reeve appreciates her so much that she started playing for Copper right up until the game against South Korea (where she was brought back into the starting five at halftime), despite her relative inexperience on the team.

Fact this is is the least experienced she will ever be with USA Basketball and she will continue to grow on both sides within the system in the coming years, which is a huge boon for Team USA moving forward.

“She was amazing,” Reeve said of Copper after the Belgium game. “She was someone we felt could make an impact in her match. She covers the area so quickly. You think that you are open, but you are not, she goes through it, she has deviations. She was really good. on the court like no other.”

Which countries are the main rivals of the United States?

China (3-1): With a balanced offense and physical style of play on both sides, China was by far the strongest team the US has faced to date. “I’m sure it won’t be the last time we see them,” Plum said after the United States took a 14-point victory, parrying several tries in the process.

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