Two days after the American men suffered their first Olympics loss since 2004, the United States women looked to avoid the same fate and extend their Olympics winning streak to an outrageous 50, having not lost since 1992, on Tuesday morning against Nigeria.
However, despite being 30-point favorites and having beaten Nigeria by 31 in exhibition action, the American women got off to a slow start, as Nigeria pressed them into a number of early turnovers and jumped out to a 25-20 lead. At that point, Team USA’s veterans established control, led by Diana Taurasi who hit a pair of threes in the first half to lead the U.S. with 10 points at the break, leading a 23-0 run for the Americans that gave them a 12-point cushion at halftime.
The third quarter saw Team USA extend their lead to 20 entering the fourth quarter, as A’ja Wilson and Britney Griner continued to assert their dominance inside, combining for 32 points and 23 rebounds on the night, with Wilson leading all scorers with 19 points. The fourth quarter started with both teams trading baskets and it seemed as though the U.S. was going to cruise to a comfortable win, but D’Tigress were not going to let it be that easy.
A 12-0 run in the fourth quarter brought Nigeria back to within eight with just over three minutes to play — capped off by a 5-point play from Adaora Elonu who made a three-pointer, got fouled, and it was ruled an unsportsmanlike foul for a second free throw — but on cue, Sylvia Fowles and Chelsea Gray hit a pair of big shots to push the American lead back out to 12 and restore a bit of order. Nigeria continued applying pressure, led by Ezinne Kalu’s 16 points and seven rebounds, and kept the United States stressed til the final buzzer sounded and the Americans escaped with an 81-72 win.
The point of emphasis for Dawn Staley in the coming days will certainly be on turnovers, as the Americans coughed it up 25 times compared to just 11 turnovers from Nigeria. Other teams will take note of how Nigeria’s full court pressure bothered Team USA, and they will have to clean up how they handle physical ball pressure going forward if they are to make history with a run to a seventh straight gold medal. Still, it was a solid performance for Team USA, led by their bigs in Wilson, Griner, and Fowles (nine points off the bench), with their grizzled vets providing the steadying hand needed to get them across the finish line as Taurasi finished with those 10 points and Sue Bird dished out 13 dimes in the win.