The USA’s women stormed to a 88-63 victory over Great Britain in Manchester but only after the hosts had threatened to pull off an upset of the reigning Olympic champions.
Tom Maher’s side surged into a surprise 21-10 lead to catch the Americans on the hop. For a brief spell, it looked like there would be another extraordinary twist in this summer of grand tales written by the Australian’s group of scrappers.
But the star-studded USA showed their class to reel off 21 consecutive points as Britain’s hopes were ruthlessly crushed.
The eventual margin of defeat was not unexpected. Yet again however, a few eyebrows will have been raised by the manner in which the hosts stood up to a full-scale assault from a team that should, bar an astounding shock, claim gold in London.
Maher says his side should have no concerns that they deserve their place at the Games.
“Four years ago we were rubbish and now we’re respectable. We’ve played well against Australia and now USA,” he said.
“We’ve come so far and I couldn’t be prouder of the team. Two months ago I wasn’t so sure but now – God willing everyone stays healthy – the country will be proud of their team.”
Once Britain’s early euphoria had faded, the USA tightened their grip.
Another 10-0 run increased the deficit and with Maya Moore scoring 15 of her team-best 18 points in the first half, her team sat pretty with a 47-32 lead at half-time.
“I’m not surprised by their start, I’m surprised by ours,” said Geno Auriemma, the USA’s coach afterwards.
“When you’re playing a road game and you’re the United States, you always expect the other team to be ready, or more ready, than they ever will be. The emotions of the game were very high for them at the beginning. We were kind of passive in our offense and in our defence.”
Briefly, GB were sparked back into contention by Stef Collins who hit a three-pointer which cut the Americans lead back to 54-47 with 4:51 left in the third period.
But the USA reeled off a 10-0 run to kill off Britain’s momentum and they eventually swept as much as 82-53 ahead with 6 minutes left.
“We had some good things we did as a team,” said Moore, who added 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
“I liked our energy. I liked our hustle. We got into the lanes and tried to create chaos. Great Britain played hard. They fought and they were a good opponent.”
Great Britain will now re-locate to the Olympic Village in London.
With the Games just nine days away, confidence remains high, declared GB captain Jo Leedham.
“This is a good outcome for us,” said Leedham, who scored a game-high 21 points.
“I don’t think we executed great but we showed ourselves that when we are executing, we can play at that level.”
It is expected Maher’s side will play Russia next Tuesday in a closed door scrimmage in London, ahead of their opening game against Australia on Saturday 28 July.
Soon, all the build-up will be over and the real business will begin.
“We’re right where we want to be,” said Leedham. “We’ll go through our stuff. We have a few things to sharpen up but we have practices for that. We’re in a good place.”
Notes: GB starters: Stafford, Collins, Leedham, Stewart, Fagbenle. USA’s Sue Bird missed the game (personal reasons). GB finish their pre-Olympic friendlies with an 8-8 record.
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