The USA Women’s national team began their Olympic preparations with a game against EuroLeague Women Final Four side Lotos VBW Clima Gdynia on Sunday night in Poland.
Polish internationals Agnieszka Bibrzycka, Joanna Cuprys, Margo Dydek and Paulina Pawlak wll not be competing in Athens, thanks to a heartbreaking loss to Spain at the 2003 European Championship in Greece. Nonetheless, they had a chance to test themselves against the World and Olympic champions on their home court.
|Gdynia faced the USA in front of a full house|
The U.S. ran out to an 8-2 lead in the first 3:31 of the game. But San Antonio Silver Stars' 213 cm center Margo Dydek scored Lotos' first eight points and at 4:08 the U.S. held a 12-8 lead. Receiving points from four different players, the Americans outscored the Poles 12-8 to close the quarter ahead 24-16.
Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) tallied the USA's first six points of the second quarter and assisted Thompson on the next bucket as the U.S. launched an 11-5 assault for a 35-23 lead at 6:29. At the 3:47 mark, with the red, white and blue still carrying a double-digit lead, 39-27, the arena's lights dimmed. Whether the 15:26 delay was due to a blown fuse or the USA's hot shooting in the first half (19-33 FGs) is a matter of speculation. Either way, the delay didn't sideline the Americans' offense as they allowed just one Lotos field goal in an 8-4 spurt that ended the half with the USA on top by 16, 47-31.
Lotos came out of the locker room on fire and in just under five minutes, closed to 54-44. Baskets were swapped by both teams until Elaine Powell drove for a layup at 3:11, which cut the USA's lead to single digits, 59-50. The Polish squad reduced it to eight points, 63-55, but Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) found Ruth Riley (Detroit Shock) open as the third period expired and the U.S. was up by 10 again, 65-55.
If Lotos VBW Clima had thoughts of an upset, it was short lived. Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets) and Tangela Smith (Sacramento Monarchs) hit back-to-back buckets to open the fourth. After a Lotos layup by Agnieszka Bibrzycka put the score at 69-57, the only field goal for her squad in the fourth quarter, the USA reeled off 10 unanswered points to virtually put the game away 79-57 at 4:58. During the run, Bird hit her two threes of the game, while Riley contributed the remaining four points. The game's final five minutes saw Lotos shoot 7-of-10 from the line as the U.S. closed with its second victory of the European Tour.
Thompson, who shot a perfect 6-of-6 from the charity stripe, had 14 of her eventual 21 points by halftime. The USA's scoring efforts were further bolstered by 12 points apiece from Tangela Smith and Swoopes; Katie Smith (Minnesota Lynx), a former member of the Lotos VBW Clima squad (2001-02, 2002-03), scored 11 points; while Bird and Catchings added 10 each. Tangela Smith grabbed a game high seven rebounds, Bird and Swoopes passed off for five and four assists, respectively, and Katie Smith came up with a team best three steals.
Dydek scored a team high 13 points, Powell had 11 and Melvin tossed in 10 points.
Shooting 54.7 percent (35-64 FGs) on the night, the U.S. scorched the nets in the first half with 57.6 percent (19-33 FGs) of its tries, while Lotos VBW Clima was held to 40.7 percent (22-54 FGs). The USA outrebounded its opponent 32-24. Additionally, despite only being together for four days as a group, the United States passed off for 20 assists on 35 field goals.
Moving to the Czech Republic, the United States continues play March 23 and 24 in Brno against 2003 European Championship silver medalist Czech Republic, with both games slated to begin at 5:00 p.m. The U.S. will face another 2004 Final Four advancing team, MiZo Pecsi VSK in Pecs, Hungary, on March 27 at 6:00 p.m., before capping its European Tour against Hungary in Budapest on March 28 at 5:00 p.m.