Three games into its college tour, the USA Basketball Senior Women’s National Team is 3-0 but has gotten some good competition from the best the college game has to offer (including two of the last three National Champions and the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 ranked teams in the preseason poll).
The tour started Wednesday, when the U.S. Women played the 2006 National Champions, Maryland. The U.S. held a two-point lead at the half, 40-38, but went on a 22-6 run early in the second half to win 90-73.
On Friday, UConn alumnae Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Diana Taurasi returned to their alma mater and Gambel Pavilion, where they teamed up to lead UConn to the 2002 Championship. The Huskies were as close as 64-60 with a little more than eight minutes left, but the U.S. Women pulled away to win 90-74.
Today, the U.S. took on the defending National Champions, Tennessee. The Lady Vols got within three points on a 9-0 run, but were held without a field goal over the final 3:48 as the U.S. finished on a 10-1 run and earned an 83-72 victory. Candace Parker, who played with many of the opposing players during the FIBA Americas Championship in September, scored 22 points for Tennessee.
The storied UConn-Tennessee rivalry played out in interesting fashion over the last two games. At UConn, Tennessee product Kara Lawson hit several big shots down the stretch. Today, Taurasi scored a game-high 28 points against her former rivals.
“We expected this to be very competitive, as was the case at Connecticut and Maryland,” said Anne Donovan. “There was lots of good pressure by them and it was a great game for us in terms of having to get our composure at the end of the game and finish a game off. They really challenged us down the stretch. You expect nothing less from Tennessee, they gave us a great ball game from start to finish.”
Bird has averaged 9.0 points and 3.0 assists over the first three games of the tour. She enjoyed the matchup with UConn.
“I was really excited for this game coming in and playing on this floor again,” Bird said. “I was really excited and glad to be out there and play my heart out.”
The big story of the college tour is that Lisa Leslie is making her return to the court for the first time since giving birth to daughter Lauren in June. There have been few signs of rust; Leslie has averaged 15.0 points and 9.3 rebounds, including a double-double today.
“My focus is split with my baby, obviously, and not being able to be at 100 percent because it’s only been four months,” Leslie said. “I keep seeing glimpses of what I’m going to be capable of doing so that keeps me hopeful of coming back. “
Some other notes:
- Today’s game was the Tennessee debut for highly-touted freshman Angie Bjorklund, from Spokane’s University High School. She started and scored 13 points, hitting four three-pointers.
“Bjorklund’s a nice player,” said Lawson. “She’s got good composure. You can tell that she knows how to play the game. She doesn’t seem rushed when teams are going pretty fast out there.”
- Got a surprise watching yesterday’s UW-Stanford game (go Dawgs!): Former Storm forward Kate Starbird was honored during halftime as part of the group inducted into the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame.
- While we’re on college hoops, the Tia Jackson era started with a win. The Huskies beat Love & Basketball 84-59 in an exhibition matchup on Saturday.