Team USA survived an early onslaught to secure a nervous 81-72 win against Nigeria in their women’s basketball Group B opener on Tuesday (27 July).
The six-time reigning Olympic champions boast a roster full of WNBA talent including no fewer than 15 previous gold medallists, but it was Nigeria who took the early initiative.
In just their second Olympic appearance, the African champions took a 20-17 first-quarter lead thanks to the sharp shooting of Ify Ibekwe.
USA eventually found their rhythm at the Saitama Super Arena thanks to Opening Ceremony flagbearer Sue Bird – who brought up a century of assists at the Olympic Games – and a steady stream of points from Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Olympic debutant A’ja Wilson.
But D’Tigress refused to lie down. In a thrilling final quarter they roared back to life with 22 points but fell nine points short of a relieved USA at the full-time buzzer.
History tells us that beating the USA in women’s Olympic basketball is a tall order… in every sense of the word.
They have won every gold medal since Atlanta 1996, and are hoping to make it seven in a row at Tokyo 2020.
The woman in charge is University of South Carolina head coach and three-time Olympic gold medallist Dawn Staley.
“USA Basketball has never been in a better place,” Staley said before the tournament. “I’m honoured to be the coach of such an amazing collection of talented women, both those named to the team and those who gave their all the last few years but won’t be with us in Tokyo.
“The fact that some of the players who won’t suit up this summer would start for any other country is a testament to their talent and to what USA Basketball has done to build a program that lifts up our female athletes every single day.
“ I’m so proud to be the coach of Team USA and like all of the coaches, support staff, and our players, I can’t wait to make America proud this summer.”
The USA’s next match is against hosts Japan, while Nigeria will look to bounce back against France. Both matches take place on Friday (30 July).