USA Kicks-Off 2007 Tour of Italy With 77-47 Victory Over Italian National Team
Utilizing a 14-0 run to open the second half, the 2007-08 USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team (1-0) ran away with a 77-47 victory over the Italian National Team on Wednesday evening at the Pallazetto dello Sport in front of a packed house and an Italian nationally televised audience. Leading the charge for the U.S. were Sylvia Fowles (Louisiana State University) and Taj McWilliams-Franklin (Connecticut Sun), who notched 15 and 14 points, respectively.
"We talked defensively about how to defend them a little bit better with all the screening action that was going on," said USA and Seattle Storm head coach Anne Donovan about her halftime locker room speech. "We calmed down a little bit more. I thought we executed our offense better in the second half, we started to hit some more shots. I don't think we hit much from the outside in the first half at all, so in the second half we had a lot more confidence. We calmed down, hit a few of the outside shots to go with what Taj was doing inside."
"I think we had some issues with the chemistry in the first and second quarters, some focus issues," said McWilliams-Franklin. "Especially on defense. I don't think we were trusting enough of each other so we were trying to play it safe. We sat down at halftime, coach talked about our defense, our help side, rotating on transition, and I think starting the third quarter with the switch it made us more aggressive, players weren't just laying back or waiting to get picked. I know for myself and for (Tamika) Catchings, we can do that and do it well. Switching really helped us get more aggressive and we pulled away after that. And after that it was just about staying focused and putting the hammer down on them."
The USA won't have much of a rest as its next game is tomorrow, April 12, versus the professional team Phard Napoli in Naples (3:30 p.m. EDT). After three additional days of practice the USA is slated to meet the professional team Pallancestro Viterbo on April 16 (3:00 p.m. EDT) in Viterbo. The U.S. will return to Rome for a game against an all-star squad made up of top players from Italy's Pomezia Region on April 17 (12:00 p.m. EDT). The USA will cap its Tour of Italy with practices on April 18 and 19.
The teams traded turnovers, missed shots and baskets over the first six and a half minutes of the game, but with the USA ahead 10-9 the red, white and blue got nine points from four different players to jump in front 19-9 at the 1:53 mark. However, the 10-point lead was short lived. Italy hit a 13-6 scoring spurt that ended with a three with 7:27 to go in the half and the USA's gap dwindled to 25-22. Italy remained within striking distance and at halftime the Americans were up 36-31.
A 14-0 scoring spree to open the second half pried the game wide open for the U.S., thanks in part to eight points from Mc Williams-Franklin. The Americans continued to dominate the third quarter and outscored Italy 23-4 in all during that 10-minute span to put the game away. The USA's defensive pressure forced Italy into shooting a paltry 14.3 percent from the field (2-14 FGs) in the third and forced five turnovers, while connecting on 53.3 percent (8-15 FGs), committing just two turnovers and grabbing 13 boards.
By the end of the third quarter the USA was up 59-35 and expanded the lead to 77-47 through the fourth.
In addition to Fowles' 15 points, she grabbed a game-high eight rebounds, while McWilliams-Franklin shot a perfect 5-of-5 from the field and 4-of-4 from the line and also collected seven rebounds on the night. While they were the only two U.S. players in double digits, Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) had nine and Michelle Snow (Houston Comets) scored eight points.
"In talking to the veterans I knew I had to go out there and be physical," said Fowles. "Especially playing on this level, you're going to get knocked around a little bit so you have to just go out there and help your teammates out, especially defensively. If they're banging, you have to bang as well."
Overall the U.S. had as many rebounds as Italy had points, winning the battle of the boards 47-24, including 19 on the offensive end. The United States closed the night shooting 46.4 percent (32-69 FGs) from the field and 40.0 percent (4-10 3pt FGs) from 3-point, while limiting Italy to 31.3 percent (21-67 FGs) overall and 21.7 percent (5-23 3pt FGs) from afar.
Following a break for the WNBA season, the USA Women's Senior National Team will reconvene in early September at a site to be determined to begin preparations for the FIBA Americas Championship 2007. Slated for Sept. 25-29 in Valdivia, Chile, not only is a gold medal on the line at the FIBA Americas tournament, the winner also will receive a berth in the 2008 Olympics. In addition to the USA, teams participating in the FIBA Americas Championship 2007 will be Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Jamaica and Mexico. Should the United States not return home from Chile with the gold medal, there will be one final chance to qualify for the Olympics at the 2008 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament slated for June 9-15 at a site TBD.
Donovan is being assisted by 2006 WNBA Coach of the Year Mike Thibault of the Connecticut Sun and collegiate head coaches Gail Goestenkors of the University of Texas and Temple University's Dawn Staley.