RIO DE JANEIRO — The United States women’s basketball team was never going to have a scare thrown into them by Senegal in their Olympic opener Sunday.
The reigning African champion is 0-for-7 in two trips to the Summer Games. But the contest did at least show that Diana Taurasi wasn’t kidding the other day when she looked ahead to the U.S. team’s chase for its sixth straight Olympic gold medal and said, “We want to dominate the world. The sports world, I mean.”
Then Sunday’s game began and Taurasi drilled three of her four 3-pointers in the opening minutes to send the U.S. sprinting off to a 16-2 lead, and the rout was on. The U.S. team finished with seven scorers in double figures and broke its own single-game Olympic scoring record by seven points with a 121-56 win.
The Americans’ 65-point margin of victory was also an Olympic record — and it could have been worse. Long before the U.S. took a 65-21 into the half, the Brazilian crowd had adopted the smaller Senegalese team and cheered encouragement whenever it did manage to score. Later on, the fans even began booing the U.S. whenever it touched the ball.
“It was a good start,” Taurasi said afterward. “We know it’s a long tournament. A long eight games, hopefully. It’s good to get the jitters out … I always say when the opening ceremony ends, that’s when the business end starts.”
Other than the mild surprise of seeing center Brittney Griner in the starting lineup — she hadn’t started a game for the U.S. team during its four-game Olympic tour — coach Geno Auriemma basically used this game as a soft rollout, a chance to let everyone get a little bit of playing time. All 12 U.S. women played and scored as the Americans shot 65 percent from the field. Nearly two-thirds of their baskets were scored inside the paint.
Things will get tougher starting Monday, when the U.S. comes right back to play Spain (10 a.m. ET). Auriemma had spoken for days leading up to Sunday’s game about how his team was so anxious to get started, he welcomed the idea of playing back-to-back games.
“I’m glad,” Auriemma said, “because we need to be in game mode, and I think that’s going to get us there.”
Senegal wasn’t much of a reliable measuring stick, but the U.S. did show it has assembled a roster that should be able to play whichever kind of game it needs. Auriemma has the players to win a physical game, or a high-scoring one; this team can run-and-gun, shoot 3s and excel in half-court sets. Taurasi is still arguably the best player in the world, and Griner is its most intimidating shot-blocker.
Taurasi, Tamika Catchings and Sue Bird are all playing in their fourth Olympic Games, so appreciate them while you can. Because reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne’s and Breanna Stewart’s positions on this team signal a changing of the guard is coming soon.
Just not quite yet.
While Delle Donne called her first Olympic game “fun,” Taurasi was much harder to please, insisting, “There are things we have to work on. Defensively, we’re still trying to straighten out [a few things].”
Offensively, she added, the team’s timing and rhythm aren’t where she’d like them to be.
But Taurasi did get one wish of hers. The USA, which is now riding a 42-game winning streak in Olympic play, again looks like a world-beater.