The United States opened defense of its FIBA world championship with a comfortable 87-56 victory over China, with Brittney Griner and Maya Moore each scoring 15 Saturday night in Istanbul.
“It’s the kind of game we were hoping for the first game of the tournament,” U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma said. “We got to play a really good Chinese basketball team, I really respect them. We started under duress and finished the game on a high.”
It was the first national team game for Griner, the WNBA’s Defensive Player of the Year for the Phoenix Mercury, and she transitioned quickly with nine points in the first quarter, playing with goggles due to her scratched eye from the WNBA Finals.
“I’m proud of the effort, but we can always get better,” said Griner, who also picked up four blocks and seven rebounds.
The U.S. grabbed an early 7-0 lead until Chen Xiaojia (10 points) produced a three at 6:15 of the first, and it led 20-13 after one. In the early stages of the second, Chen found the bottom of the rim again from long range, and a Ji Yanyan three would lessen the gap to 22-21. Nneka Ogwumike scoring with a spin in the post led to a Chinese timeout and the pull away.
Yang Liwei drove in for a layup at the halftime buzzer to bring China within 39-32. The Americans, who play Serbia Sunday, got down to business in the third, widening the lead to 60-40, with Diana Taurasi scoring seven of her eight points.
Seimone Augustus (11) and Angel McCoughtry (10) also scored in double figures for the U.S., as all 12 players got into the box score. Tina Charles grabbed 15 rebounds, and Moore eight. Sun Mengran scored 10 for China, while Gao Song and Zhang Lilting each had six rebounds.
“We needed to get used to the body contact of the USA,” Chen Xiaojia listed as a difficulty Saturday through a translator. “Especially at the beginning of the third quarter, in the first five minutes, we didn’t score. Now we are focused on the next game against Angola.”
The U.S. had defeated China, 114-66, in the opening round of competition at the 2012 London Olympics.
“What’s important for us, we know who we are, and we have to maintain that for the rest of the tournament,” China coach Thomas Maher said.
In the late game Saturday at Ankara, the defending silver medalists from the Czech Republic defeated Brazil in Group A, 68-55. Jana Vesela went for 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Czechs, and Clarissa Santos had 10 and 10 of the same statistics for the Brazilians.