The USA Basketball Women’s National Team began their FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 journey on a high with an 87-72 win over Belgium on Thursday morning in Sydney, Australia.
Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins got the start and scored 7 points on 3-of-7 shooting while center Shakira Austin scored 4 points off the bench in 11 minutes. Breanna Stewart led Team USA with 22 points. Highlights can be seen below.
Belgium entered this tournament with a chance to be the second best team in the standings on paper. Considering the Cats came to Sydney in full force, they had a legitimate shot at beating the Americans. Chicago Sky forward Emma Meesseman usually has 10 extra gears in her when playing in a Cats uniform and this team is the reason Julie German was also traded from Indiana Fever to Sky.
That said, the Americans, who have Mystics head coach Mike Thibault AND former Mystics player (and now Duke women’s basketball head coach) Kara Lawson as assistants, know Meesseman very well. That’s because she played here in D.C. from 2013-2020 and is a multiple-time All-Star. The Americans have been focused on making her a non-factor in the game despite the absence of Las Vegas Aces stars A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray who are still on their way to Australia after winning the 2022 WNBA Finals.
And this strategy worked. Meesseman was MIA today, scoring just 4 points on 2-of-6 shooting. And she had zero aggression with the ball either, attempting NO free throws. In fact, Belgian Cats don’t seem to be looking for such aggressive foul shots as a whole. I’ve noticed it over the past few years. only attempted 10 while the Americans attempted 23. They shot pretty well and made more three than the Americans. But the Cats committed 25 turnovers while the Americans committed 19.
While Belgium were a little more reckless about throwing fouls and taking more shots (they only scored 22 points in the paint compared to Team USA’s 42), they didn’t. as much turned the ball over and if Meesseman looked more like ‘Belgian Cat Emma’ in Women’s EuroBasket and not like… ‘Passive Emma’ when she was sometimes a young prospect on the Mystics, this game could have been a win for Belgium. It really could have.
For the Cats, it was a missed opportunity, as they struggle to beat other opponents in their group like Bosnia and China. And the Americans were shorthanded by three players.
On the other hand, it was a great game for Team USA considering the shortcomings. Turnovers were a problem, but again they made Meesseman a non-factor and no one else was able to fill the void for the Cats. When German and Julie Vanloo are the team’s only double-digit scorers and when Kyara Linskens is the best rebounder and low-post shooter, I take it. 100 per cent.
The American team is back tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET vs. Puerto Rico on ESPN Plus. I’ll try to get an overview later this afternoon.