9:27 p.m. ET
CloseMechelle Voepel covers WNBA, women’s college basketball and other college sports for espnW. Voepel started covering women’s basketball in 1984 and has been with ESPN since 1996.
LAS VEGAS – After back-to-back exhibition losses, the US Women’s Olympic basketball team will approach Sunday’s game against Nigeria (5:30 p.m. ET) with a greater sense of urgency than exposure usually wouldn’t cause it.
“We want to make sure we go out and have a nice game on this long flight,” said goalie Jewell Loyd of the upcoming trip to Tokyo.
This week marks the first time since an exhibition tour of Europe in 2011 that the US Women’s National Team has lost back-to-back games. The Americans have not lost three straight games since 1998 in the Australian Goldmark Cup, all of those losses having come in Australia.
In the two major competitions, the Olympics and the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, the Americans have lost only once since winning the Atlanta Games in 1996. This happened during the Olympic Games. 2006 FIBA World Cup semi-finals, after which they won the bronze medal match.
“We’re not used to having to defend while losing,” said US coach Dawn Staley. “This prep is great for us. It puts us back on our heels and puts us in a position to sort things out quickly. You lose two, it shakes you up. It’s foreign to them. We feel a bit of pressure.”
That said, Staley said overall, she isn’t particularly worried after the Americans’ 93-85 loss to Team WNBA in the All-Star Game on Wednesday and the 70-67 loss to Team Australia. Friday. There were troubling issues in both games, offensively and defensively. But given that this team has been together for less than a week and that four-time Olympic gold medalist Diana Taurasi has yet to play, Staley said she sees improvements every time the Americans are on the field. pitch together in matches and training.
In particular, the six players making their Olympic debuts are in the process of determining their roles. Washington goalkeeper Ariel Atkins, who turns 25 on July 30 when the Americans face Japan in their second Group B game, has been asked about being one of the best perimeter defenders in the world.
“I know it’s something I can bring to this team. I love playing defense, it’s honestly my favorite part of the game, ”said Atkins. “But I’m going to learn to adapt to the FIBA rules. In the WNBA they reward you for being an aggressive defender. Not so much in FIBA. So learning to balance that and improve is really going to help me. to play in defense at the international level. “
Loyd of Seattle, a two-time WNBA champion at 27, also got used to being a part of her first Olympic team.
“Diana after practice today took me aside and we had some shots. And she told me to stay aggressive,” said Loyd. “Hearing that from her – we’re obviously friends, but also knowing that she’s relying on me a bit to step up, that’s good to know. Because sometimes you find yourself in situations where you’re not. sure, and you’re like, ‘I’ll just do as I’m told.’
“But I think a bit of where we’re at with this team is, ‘Yeah, I’m a rookie, but I’m pretty experienced as well, so just try to do my job.'”
Phoenix goalie Taurasi, 39, competed in her first Olympics in 2004, when Staley was playing in her last Summer Games. Taurasi has been out since the Mercury game on July 3 with a hip injury, but is doing what she can to help this group until she returns to the pitch.
“It’s frustrating; you obviously want to be there to help,” Taurasi said. “When you’ve been on the team for a long time, you know there are certain things that help the process. The reality is, it’s the first time for a lot of these guys, and sometimes you have to go through the fire.
“These two games are kind of the reality of how it’s not an easy road. It never and never will be. You go through those bumps and bruises. Unfortunately, we’ve had two games where we didn’t get the result we wanted. But I think there has been growth there. This group is still very confident. We always know it will be difficult, and we have to accept it. “
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