For the second consecutive game, it wasn’t really until the second quarter when the USA women’s basketball team really started to pull away from their opponent before eventually winning 89-58.
But unlike previous games where it took the U.S. some time to pull away from their opponent, a large part of the struggle to pull away was Turkey’s hot start.
Turkey statistical MVP: Birsel Vardarli leads Turkey’s 3-point shooting effort
Turkey was only down 19-16 at the end of the first quarter, almost entirely due to their 4-for-7 (57.14%) 3-point shooting.
One of those was made and another assisted by Birsel Vardali, who finished with team-highs of three 3-pointers, 3 assists, and 11 points.
But as the saying goes, you live by the three and die by the three and yesterday Turkey wasn’t able to keep up that pace: they shot 4-for-17 (23.52%) from the 3-point line the rest of the way.
Key statistic: USA’s defense cooled down Turkey in the second quarter
One reason for Turkey going cold from long-range was a strategic change on USA’s part – switching from zone to man-to-man defense clearly changed the flow of the game in the second quarter. In addition to the decline in 3-point shooting, Turkey only had one second quarter assist on their four field goals, which is indicative of their difficulty in even getting into their offense and making anything happen.
Turkey shot 20% from the field in that second quarter and missed all three of the 3-point attempts they got before heading into halftime down by 15. They would threaten again in the third quarter, getting within five points after another pair of Vardali threes as well as an additional assisted three, but the U.S. just kept coming in waves of defensive intensity.
Ultimately, Turkey played a solid game relative to Team USA’s first two opponents – the U.S. played much better overall yesterday than they did against Croatia and Turkey still managed to hang around. But a “relatively solid” game simply isn’t enough to overcome the depth of the U.S. and that was the major difference in this game, as reported by Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press.
“What we lack in preparation time we make up for in the quality of our depth,” Auriemma said. “We have to use it to the best of our advantage. That second group led by Lindsay (Whalen) and Angel (McCoughtry) was the difference in the game.”
USA statistical MVP: Angel McCoughtry leads an impressive bench effort
Although the team that helped to really extend the lead in the second quarter was four starters with Seimone Augustus, there was little question that a shift in momentum came when the second team entered the game in the first quarter – when the entered, the team was down 10-8; when the quarter ended, the team was up 19-16.
We’re used to seeing McCoughtry get credit as a leading scorer, but the way she earned her team-high 83.02% true shooting percentage was what made her performance yesterday so impressive – on a day when depth off the bench overwhelmed Turkey, McCoughtry’s aggression probably epitomized the effort.
There are few players in the world more dangerous than McCoughtry in the open court and she has definitely gotten her share of points in those situations during the 2012 Olympics. But she also shot shot 10-for-11 from the free throw line yesterday, continuing to attack the basket off the drive and get second chance opportunities off of offensive rebounds – in addition to everything else she did, McCoughtry finished the game with a game-high six offensive rebounds (38.46% offensive rebounding percentage).
She has been relentless in attacking the basket during the Olympics and is also shooting less perimeter shots than WNBA fans are used to seeing from her. The combination has made her a lethal scorer who can get points extremely quickly off the bench either by scoring in transition off of steals or attacking the basket off drives and hustle plays. While everyone is changing roles during the Olympics, McCoughtry’s change from the number one option with the Atlanta Dream to energy scorer off the bench has been arguably one of the most productive for the U.S. this summer.
Key player: Lindsay Whalen ties team-high with 7 rebounds
In contrast to McCoughtry whose role with Team USA seems different than that which she has with the Dream, Lindsay Whalen is doing things that we’re used to seeing her do.
It’s hard to think that anyone can run a fast break more efficiently than Whalen with an impeccable sense of timing and touch as a distributor and the ability to bull doze her way to the basket for a layup, free throws, or a combination of both. And for a team that seemed to struggle to establish their post game as the gelled early on in exhibition play, her ability to get easy shots around the basket for herself and create for others has unquestionably been a huge asset, whether as reserve or starter.
Even seeing her tied for the team lead with 7 rebounds isn’t all that surprising – she has consistently been among the best rebounding point guards in the WNBA for years. This is just Whalen’s game, even if some people failed to notice over the years, as described by USA coach Geno Auriemma after the game.
When Lindsay was in college and we were getting ready to play them in the Final Four, I thought she was a great combination of someone who was hard-nosed and smart, creative. She is what a guard is supposed to be…Lindsay’s just an old fashioned guard from back in the day, the way she looks, the way she plays.
But when that’s the combination of players the U.S. is bringing off the bench – two aggressive guards who are among the best at what they do – it’s very difficult to imagine many teams keeping up regardless of superior preparation.