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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

USA Blows Out Belarus, 107-61, to Cement Place in World Championship Quarterfinals

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Photo Caption: Sylvia Fowles may have lost her position in Team USA’s starting line-up—at least for Tuesday night’s game against Belarus—but she came off the bench to lead the U.S. to a 107-61 victory with game highs of 15 points and six rebounds on perfect five-of-five shooting from the field.

Photo Credit: Tara Polen

By Lee Michaelson

Coach Geno Auriemma tweaked Team USA’s starting line-up for tonight’s game against Belarus – starting Candice Dupree (Phoenix Mercury) in lieu of Swin Cash (Seattle Storm) and Tina Charles (Connecticut Sun) in place of Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky). The move paid immediate dividends, as Team USA overcame the spate of slow starts that have marked its performance here to date.

This game saw the U.S. come strong out of the gate. A little more than two minutes into the opening period, Dupree launched a 17-0 run with a short jumper in the paint, followed by a break-away lay-up off a Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) steal and a feed by Sue Bird (Seattle Storm). By the time Belarus recovered its footing nearly five minutes later, the Americans were already up, 23-6, with three minutes still to go in the opening period.

It was all downhill from there, as Team USA went on to close out the opening period, 37-11. For the rest of the game, Belarus could do little more than try to staunch the bleeding. While the pace of the U.S. scoring slowed a bit, the two teams went to the locker room with the Americans up 30, 58-28, and by game’s end, Team USA had again surpassed the century mark with a 107-61 victory.

“I don’t really have much to say about this game,” said 6-2 forward Tatyana Troina of Belarus, who spent her college years in the U.S., playing for the South Carolina Gamecocks her junior and senior years. “What is there to say? They’re better than us? It’s obvious. They’re way better than us? It’s obvious.”

And Belarus coach Anatoli Buyalski observed in broken English that both he and his players had been given a “good school,” by the U.S., thanking Auriemma for the education, much to the surprise of the latter.

“That’s something you never see in America,” said Auriemma. “You beat someone and they say, ‘Thank you.’ They call you lots of things but they don’t say, ‘Thank you.’”

But Auriemma added graciously, “At one point during the game I said, ‘I don’t think we’re as good as we looked during that first quarter, first half, and I don’t think Belarus is as bad as they looked.’ They’re a lot better, and they’ve shown that they’re a lot better during this tournament. We just happened to play really, really well tonight against a good team. I’ve seen them play the other four games that they’ve played here, and they’re a very good team. For us to do what we did tonight, we had to play really, really well and we did.”

“One of the things that is difficult about playing against us is when we substitute, when we go to the bench and the team doesn’t change that much,” Auriemma continued. “So it puts a tremendous pressure on the other team to have to keep up with that, and it’s very difficult. We’re fortunate. We’re lucky that we have some really good players who want to play together. They’re unselfish. They want to share the ball, like they did tonight.”

As for the new starting rotation, “We made a couple changes in the starting lineup just to give us a new look, and it worked great,” said Auriemma.

Tina Charles added, “I think anybody that coach decides to put in the starting lineup wants to go out and get the first punch, be the aggressor out there. Candice [Dupree] and I took the opportunity to go out and play hard. We were just going to do all the things that coach wants us to do and expects from us individually.”

Photo Caption: Tina Charles and Candice Dupree, the two new faces in Team USA’s starting line-up, got the Americans off to a strong start, combining for the first 10 points for the U.S. Charles finished with eight points and three rebounds despite playing only 13 minutes.
Photo Credit: Tara Polen

Together, Charles and Dupree combined for Team USA’s first 10 points, with Dupree posting eight points in the first quarter alone and finishing the game with 12 points and six rebounds and Charles tallying eight points and three boards in just 13 minutes on the floor.

Photo Caption: Candice Dupree responded to her first Team USA start of the tournament with 12 points, six boards, two assists, two steals and a block. Expect to see more of her as the competition grows more intense.
Photo Credit: Tara Polen

Still, Auriemma said he was not sure whether he would stick with the new look.

“We were talking it over with the players, and we felt like there was something missing. We didn’t have the kind of flow that we were looking for, so we thought let’s try a couple different things and see how it works. If that didn’t work we were going to go another look, a different lineup. But this one worked pretty well. I was pleased, really pleased, with the way it turned out.”

Interestingly, despite losing the starting nod, Fowles had her best game of the tournament thus far, notching game highs in both scoring (15 points) and rebounds (six boards). Fowles was a perfect five-of-five from the field, and did nearly as well (five-of-six) from the foul line.

Fowles was joined in double figures by four other players, including Dupree, Diana Taurasi, who posted 14 points (including two-of-two treys), plus four boards, four assists and a steal in just 15 minutes on the floor; and Swin Cash and Maya Moore who chipped in 11 points apiece. For the second game in a row, all but one of Team USA’s 12 players scored, and 10 U.S. players notched eight points or better.

Marina Kress was the only Belarus player to break the double-digit mark. Kress finished with 10 points and three rebounds.

Photo Caption: Marina Kress was the only Belarussian to reach double figures, with 10 points and three rebounds, as Team USA executed a tour de force on the boards and in the paint.
Photo Credit: Tara Polen

The Atlanta Dream’s Yelena Leuchanka has been having a terrific tournament, but struggled in this game, finishing with nine points, but on just 29 percent from the field. Worse, Leuchanka, who came into this game ranked second among all players in the tournament in rebounding with 11.5 boards per game, went without a single rebound in this outing, as the Americans completely dominated the glass.

Photo Caption: Yelena Leuchanka (Atlanta Dream) posted nine points for Belarus, but on just two-of-seven from the field. And though she had been the tournament’s second-leading rebounder heading into this game, the United States held Leuchanka without a single board.
Photo Credit: Tara Polen

Team USA won the battle of the boards by a 41-21 margin. Though both teams coughed the ball up far too often (19 times for the U.S. to 21 times for Belarus), the Americans did a far better job of capitalizing on Belarussian errors, gleaning 23 points off turnovers to just nine for Belarus.

And the Americans ruled the paint, to the tune of 56 points in the paint to just 18 for Belarus. Team USA also led, 20-4, in fast-break points.

Next up for the Americans is the game everyone in Ostrava has been waiting for, a head-to-head with Australia.

Noting the tendency for some European teams to play “possum” in early-round games that don’t mean much (a strategy for which the Russian team has long been known), Auriemma said tomorrow’s contest won’t be anything like that, even though the game is in some respects meaningless, with both teams having already booked their tickets to the quarterfinals.

“I think tomorrow night you’ve got two teams that really want to win, that really want to beat each other. You’ve got a lot of players on their team, a lot of players on our team that are very familiar with each other. I think tomorrow is going to be like a gold medal game. It’s going to be played like that. I know it is on our end. It’s important to us tomorrow. “

“There’s no guarantee that either the United States or Australia will be in the gold medal game,” Auriemma added. “We may not play each other again, so tomorrow might be the only time. So we’re going to play to win, as I’m sure they are.”

Auriemma also acknowledged how tough Australia’s height inside makes it to play them. “[T]hey’re probably the biggest team. The big kid (Liz Cambage) gives them a whole new dimension than they’ve had in the past. They’re able to play different combinations, so they don’t have to play Lauren (Jackson) on the inside all the time. That makes it a tough match-up for whoever is guarding her, because you’re going to need your biggest guy to guard who they put out there. “

“We’re not as big as they are,” Auriemma continued. “You can tell when you watch them play that they’ve played together. They’ve played a lot of basketball together. You could see it. They read each other. Penny Taylor is so good. Everybody talks about how great Lauren is, and I know Lauren’s a great player, but to me, I think Penny Taylor is what makes it work on both ends of the floor. It’s going to be tough, but I’m looking forward to it. It should be a lot of fun.”

Side Notes

  • U.S. and University of Connecticut Head Coach Geno Auriemma may be adding a stop in Belarus to his recruiting itinerary. “I’m always amazed,” said Auriemma Monday. “There’s a lot of people living in the U.S. and Canada. But … I don’t know what the size of Belarus is, but I’ll bet you it’s about the size of New Jersey or something. Where do they get all these big girls? I look out there and there’s like four or five [players who are] six-five, six-six. And they can all shoot the ball and they can all handle the ball … They spread you out all over the floor. They’ve got one kid playing in the WNBA; one kid played in college, I don’t remember, South Carolina I think it was. … They’re just really big. That’s the first thing I came across. They’re big. They’re really big.  I should come coach in Belarus.”

    After Tuesday’s game, Auriemma had a proposal for Belarus National Team Coach Anatoli Buyalski.

    “They’ve got more than they need,” Auriemma said of Belarus’s bigs. “I’m going to come get a couple for us.  Young ones—like 18—to come to Connecticut. We’ll teach them how to speak English, and then send them back to Coach for the national team.  I’ll take ‘em for two or three years and then you can have ‘em back.”



  • The Atlanta Dream has contributed more of its personnel to the World Championships than any other WNBA franchise but Seattle. Not only is the Dream’s leading scorer, Angel McCoughtry, suiting up for the United States, but four of her teammates – Yelena Leuchanka (Belarus), Sancho Lyttle (Spain), and Iziane Castro-Marques and Erika De Souza (both of Brazil) – are competing for their national teams as well. (Seattle has six players, but no coaches, participating in the tournament—Sue Bird and Swin Cash on Team USA, Lauren Jackson and Abby Bishop on the Opals, Svetlana Abrosimova for Russia, and Jana Vesela for the hosting Czech Republic).

    But the Dream’s players haven’t just been participating – they’ve been taking the tournament by storm.  Lyttle leads the tournament in scoring with 19.6 points per game. De Souza is hot on her heels in a three-way tie for third place with 18 points per game.  Until tonight, De Souza, Leuchanka and Lyttle ranked one, two and three in rebounding.  De Souza still tops the leaderboard with 12.6 boards per game, and Lyttle is right behind her with 12; Leuchanka dropped a spot after the U.S. held her boardless in tonight’s game, but still holds down fourth place with an average of 9.2 rebounds per game.

    Even those who don’t top the leaderboards are making significant contributions to their teams. Castro-Marques knocked down the game-winning trey that gave Brazil a crucial 93-91 overtime win over Japan tonight, while De Souza swatted down the block that kept Japan from coming back.

    “It made the Dreamers all feel good at home,” said Atlanta Dream Coach Marynell Meadors, who is assisting Auriemma on the Team USA sidelines, of the performance of her two Brasilenas in today’s game.

    Team USA’s practice of distributing playing time fairly equally among its 12 talented players makes it unlikely that any will find themselves among the tournament frontrunners in individual statistics, but no one can question the value of McCoughtry’s 10.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game, nor the importance of her spark off the bench.

    “I’m just really proud of them,” said Meadors of her five World Championships players. “Playing with the Atlanta Dream and playing together with each other, I think they’ve all gotten better. And they’ve all been very competitive all season for us. Just to have this opportunity to represent each one of their countries, I think, is just an awesome event for them.”

    Three of the Atlanta players in the C and D brackets advancing through Brno, Czech Republic, while Meadors, McCoughtry and Leuchanka are two-and-a-half hours away in Ostrava. But Meadors makes it a point to text each member of her talented crew after the games and let them know “I’m real proud of them.” She expects to meet up with all five of her players on Thursday when the games move to Karlovy Vary. “The five of us are definitely going to have lunch or dinner or something if we can work it around our schedules.”

    “Just talking about the Atlanta Dream, it was just a special team that I had this year – young players, as you can see they’re all young, they’re 27 or less in age, and to have this opportunity to come here and compete against internationally the best players, I think, is just going to make them a better player for us.”

    Meadors says the Dream has always been supportive of its international players needs when it comes to their national team obligations. “We’ve given each one of them time to go practice with their teams,” she stated. “I know Iziane Castro-Marques in 2008 had to leave for about 10 days, so we let her go. Sancho had to go get her passport in Spain during our season, and I let her go. If it comes up where they have an opportunity to represent their country, then we definitely want them to do that, because it only helps us.”


  • Meadors also had some thoughts on the biggest challenges faced by players and coaches alike, when operating abroad.

    “Laundry, and food, and your sleeping schedule,” Meadors ticked off. “Just the environment. You know we don’t have cars. We have buses. You know, you have to take taxis. When we’re back in the States, we all have cars, and I think the convenience of having those is really good.”

    “You know it’s been difficult for a lot of the players, because they’ve come right from the WNBA. I mean five of ours. And you’ve got to get adjusted to this time. So, I think now, we’ve been here long enough that we’ve adjusted to it. Now when we come back home, it’ll be totally different. We won’t adjust for a while.”

    Still, the upside is huge for Meadors. “It’s learning someone else’s culture and I’m all for that. It just makes everybody more appreciative of what you have and how you can help do things a little bit better in America. I just think that anytime you can visit different areas of the world it makes you more knowledgeable … and knowledge is powerful. They just continue to grow.”


  • When it comes to other cultures, Meadors doesn’t expect to see the Atlanta Dream sporting playing dresses, like those specially designed for the Belarus team by European design house Tuta, anytime soon. And she expects that Yelena Leuchanka will be in for a bit of kidding from her fellow players about the one she’s worn through the tournament.

    Still she says, “But you know they play in that, and they say it’s real comfortable. It’s really just like a tennis dress.”



    Originally published Tue, September 28, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
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3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
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Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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