The United States women’s soccer team’s campaign at the Olympics has been a tale of two halves. Their hard work and skill have won them two victories and, for the most part, they’ve impressed at the Olympics. The women’s hockey team is going to the medal rounds for the first time in 24 years, the women’s gymnastics team is defending a six-medal haul and the women’s volleyball team has won 20 straight matches.
The United States is now 0-2 in Olympic exhibitions after an 82-59 loss to the host Australia in Las Vegas. Team USA trailed by as many as 20 points in the first half and were within two points in the second before they went cold down the stretch and couldn’t get back into the game.
Team USA could win a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal in Tokyo next month.
But if the Americans succeed, it will be a story of victory over adversity.
On Monday, they lost their second consecutive practice game, this time to Australia 91-83 in Las Vegas. Team USA has lost four of its last five games since the 2019 World Cup, where it finished seventh. They also lost twice in a row to Australia, a team that was expected to win gold in Japan.
It’s a better result than Saturday’s loss against Nigeria, but reading those words is a little uncomfortable given the pedigree of this team and coaching staff. Their chemistry and execution, especially in late game situations, held the Americans back early in their title defense.
I think we got better today, said U.S. coach Gregg Popovich, who continues to emphasize process over results. After a short time together, there’s a lot to take in.
Damian Lillard, who scored 22 points, and Kevin Durant, who scored 17 points, looked like All-Stars in this game compared to the loss against Nigeria. Overall, they made 10 of 20 three-pointers, exactly the kind of shots this lineup was made for.
The Americans held an 11-point lead in the first half and played effective physical defense at times, allowing Australia just 13 points in the second quarter. After 20 three-pointers in the opener, they were looking for more and Australia only launched 10.
These are the signs Popovich was talking about. But moral victories in defeat are a new sensation for Team USA. The loss against Nigeria was hailed as one of the biggest surprises in the history of international basketball. At the end of the match, the Australians congratulated themselves and moved on.
We went into this game expecting to win, said Joe Ingles of the Utah Jazz, who scored 17 points for Australia. No offense to them, they’re a great team, obviously the guys they have in the lineup and Pop being there is always great to see, but we came here to win the game, and we did.
For decades, the U.S. national team, whether it wins or rarely loses, has relied on an inherent advantage over national teams whose core players have developed chemistry since their teens. Popovich was back at it after that loss, as was Lillard, who was competing in his first Olympics.
These teams have a lot of experience and have spent a lot of time together, Lillard said. We’re still becoming a team.
The Aussies have institutional knowledge, as Patty Mills, who played nine seasons for Popovich in San Antonio, has been a great primary defender for them over the years. And on Monday, he was excellent again, scoring 22 points and making six three-pointers.
But the Australians have seven new players and have changed coaches twice in the last two years. Their best player, Ben Simmons, decided not to play. And as they themselves admit, they are still in the process of installing their systems.
Shortages of chemicals are a reality, but not the only one. This American team is built with versatility and shooting ability at the expense of size. The Australians knew this and beat them.
Time and time again they were able to make passes in the middle of the field to players who were either open after nice cuts or in advantageous positions. They scored 44 points in the paint against 24 from the U.S. and made 22 of 35 shots. This results in an overall dismissal rate of 53%.
Like the Nigerians, the Australians slacked off the Americans and gradually increased their lead in the second half. Popovic blamed the lack of fitness and exhaustion of his players.
Some guys need to get their legs and their rhythm back, Popovich said. We are committed to this process.
By the end of the game, the Australians were on defense and throwing hard shots, and the tired legs of the Americans were showing. Lillard and Durant missed crucial chances, and Jason Tatum missed an aerial ball on a three-pointer off a corner kick in the closing minutes to fall behind by five with a minute to go. It was better than the next possession, which resulted in a turnover.
There was a time when Team USA could settle for average performances in places like this. As is becoming increasingly clear, those days are over. The number of teams posing a threat to the Americans has clearly increased, and this week was already proof of that.
It’s different… Now you go out and the first five are all NBA players in the rotation, Lillard said. It’s also not the first time I’ve tested an American team.
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