A United States roster that was retooled to compensate for a rash of injured players did not lose their sense of dominance in the opening game of group play in the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women on Saturday in Istanbul, Turkey.
After a rough first half, Team USA pulled away for an 87-56 win over China in Group D. Brittney Griner and Maya Moore scored 15 points each to lead all players.
Griner, coming off her first professional championship with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, quickly acclimated to her surroundings in her first major international competition.
“Everyone is out there helping me out and making sure that it’s a smooth first game and experience for me. So, it’s been really easy for me,” she said.
Griner’s assimilation has been brief. She missed multiple practice sessions due to an overlap with the WNBA Finals, and an eye injury in that series further delayed her integration. However, United States head coach Geno Auriemma considered Griner a quick study after the win over China.
“She’s very alert, very aware. She’s really a smart basketball player,” he said. “She asked me today, ‘Coach, if I make a mistake on offense, what do you want me to do?’ I said, ‘Well, what do you normally do back home?’ She said, ‘screen for Dee and then go post up.’ I said, ‘That sounds like a winner to me. How about we stay with that?’”
Griner was a beacon of offense for the United States in the first half, scoring 11 points in that span. Her first field goal was the most exciting, receiving a no-look pass from Moore that set up a back-door dunk. Griner’s brethren struggled to find a respectable shooting accuracy. Team USA made only 37 percent of their shots in the first half while China’s early perimeter success helped them hang around. Defensively, the United States was more astute, forcing 12 turnovers to prevent China from a serious threat, but a 39-32 lead at halftime left a sense of vulnerability.
In the third quarter, Diana Taurasi started a 9-0 USA run to set the game on proverbial cruise control. China converted just 21 percent of their field goals in the second half, far below the 51 percent clip from the United States.
If the ball couldn’t find the hoop, the United States had a relentless rebounding presence to compensate. Team USA posted a 24-8 edge in second chance points, and often got more chances than that on offensive possessions. Tina Charles scooped 15 rebounds, more than twice as many as any other player in Sunday’s game.
“We’ve only been together for two weeks, but we looked really good, and I’m really proud of the team and where we are at right now,” said United States forward Angel McCoughtry.
Chen Xiaojia and Sun Mengran were China’s biggest scorers, with each putting in 10 points.
The United States continues group play tomorrow against Serbia. The winners of each group receive an automatic bye to the quarterfinal round, and the tournament winner earns a qualifying berth to the 2016 Olympic Games.