Eja Wilson had 19 points and 13 rebounds in her Olympic debut, helping the US beat Nigeria 81–72 in the opener for both teams.
Saitama, Japan – As always, the American women won. It just wasn’t in the dominant fashion Americans are accustomed to.
The winning streak for the world’s top-ranked team is now counting down to 50 games and an Olympic event. Eja Wilson scored 19 points in her debut and bagged 13 rebounds as the Americans beat Nigeria 81-72 in the opener for both teams on Tuesday.
It was the first time a team had come within single digits of the US since a four-point victory over Russia in the semi-finals of the 2004 Athens Games.
Sue Bird has been a part of the last five Olympics and was not too concerned with the final margin.
“You’re talking about some of the greatest Olympic teams ever,” she said of previous teams that won by double digits. “I don’t know how many teams will beat that Rio team, the London team or the Beijing team. This team is still figuring it out. We’ll get there.”
America came to Tokyo earlier this month after two rare exhibition losses in Las Vegas. The Americans also beat Nigeria by 31 points in that game.
Diana Taurasi, who was playing her first game in almost a month after suffering a hip injury, has competed to set the record for the most games at the Olympics, winning the last of them 33. He showed no side effects from the injury that sidelined him for the team’s three exhibition games in Las Vegas two weeks earlier.
Taurasi, who injured her hip in early July, said, “It was nice to get out there and compete a little with the group. Yeah, I loved it, hope it gets better day by day. One As a group I think we did some good things today, some things we have to work on. I think overall it was a very good match for us.”
With a roster full of former American college players, Nigeria was not intimidated by the Americans. The African nation went out to an 8-1 lead as the US lost its first four shots and made four turnovers. The Nigerians were up 20-17 after a quarter and extended the lead to 25-20 before the US came to power.
The Americans scored 23 straight points, with Wilson scoring the first four points – one of six newcomers on the US roster.
“It’s nice to get in the flow of things there,” Wilson said. “I was definitely nervous, but then there was the moment when I was like I should have been here.”
Brenna Stewart scored seven points during a game-changing burst. The US led 44–32 in the half as Nigeria regrouped to collect seven points from the last eight of the second quarter.
America extended the lead to 70-50 at the end of the third quarter on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Jewel Lloyd. The Americans led 75-55, before Nigeria scored 12 straight points and cut it to eight with 3:19.
the closer they are,
Ezine Kalu scored 16 runs to lead Nigeria.
“It’s a mix of disappointment, but also encouragement for us because we wanted some rhythm, and I think we got it towards the end,” said Nigeria’s Adora Elonu. “So if we can keep it going for the next game it will be good. But I think it’s good that we reduced it to 10 because here in this tournament all the points matter.
The US also holds the second-longest Olympic win streak with 15 consecutive wins. … Turnover plagued the Americans, who scored 12 in the first half and 25 for the game. … Joining Wilson as the first Olympians were Lloyd, Skylar Diggins, Ariel Atkins, Chelsea Gray and Nefisa Collier. … Bird recorded his 100th career assist in the game. She now has 102 and is behind Teresa Edwards, who holds the record with 143.
US team switched weapons during the game playing the national anthem, the same work the team did during their three exhibition games in Las Vegas. Players usually leave the court during the WNBA season to raise awareness for social justice before the in-game anthem is played. Bird, who was the US flag bearer at the opening ceremony, believes people know where she and her WNBA teammates stand on social justice issues.
Nigerians had 18 more field goal attempts than Americans but scored six fewer shots.
In search of victory:
Nigeria was attempting to become the first African nation to win an Olympic event in women’s basketball since 2004, when the team went 1–5 in Greece. No team on the continent has won a game since then. Expectations are likely to change: Nigeria goes 3-4 in the 2018 World Champions, falling to the US in the quarter-finals.
America: Will clash with Japan on Friday.
Nigeria: Will face France on Friday.
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