New-look Team USA comes from behind to top Japan

Nneka Ogwumike and Team USA's frontcourt dominated the paint, where the Americans outscored Japan 64-28. Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON -- When the U.S. women's national team heads to France in the coming days to continue its preparation for this month's FIBA World Cup, it'll likely be without many of the faces fans have become accustomed to seeing.

Of the current 14-player roster, which will be cut down to 12 this Tuesday afternoon, only three players appeared in the 2014 World Cup: Odyssey Sims, Nneka Ogwumike and Tina Charles. Only one player, Charles, has won an Olympic gold medal.

Despite the lack of national team experience on the roster, a new-look Team USA was able to handily displace Japan in the team's final stateside tune-up Monday. With Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart watching from the stands, the United States leaned on its dominant frontcourt to power the team to a 102-87 victory.

A'ja Wilson, Ogwumike and Charles had their way in the post against a Japanese roster that didn't have a player listed above 6 feet. Japan tripled-teamed U.S. players in the frontcourt, but the Americans outscored Japan 64-28 in the paint and shot 35 free throws on the night, with Ogwumike, Charles and Wilson combining to shoot 14-of-15 at the foul line.

Japan, known for its 3-point shooting, executed its brand of basketball through three quarters. In the first half, 19 of Japan's 34 field goal attempts were 3-pointers. Its seven first-half 3s and its deceptive speed in the backcourt yielded a 46-45 advantage at the half. But Japan struggled to maintain its success from beyond the arc in the second half as the U.S. women limited open looks. Down 69-67 to start the fourth quarter, the U.S. women outscored Japan 35-18 in the final period.

"We get people's best shot every time we step on the floor," U.S. coach Dawn Staley said after the win. "Japan put us back on our heels tonight and made us play a little differently than we're used to playing."

The roster for the FIBA World Cup, held Sept. 22-30, in Tenerife, Spain, will act as a scope into the future of USA basketball. National team mainstays like Lindsay Whalen (retired), Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, Angel McCoughtry (injured) and Sylvia Fowles will not compete in Spain. It remains to be seen if Bird, Stewart and Elena Delle Donne -- who clash in Game 3 on Wednesday (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET) -- will join the team at the conclusion of the WNBA Finals. Two of the 12 spots on the roster are being held for Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi, according to USA Basketball.

"We're just moving forward. We can't worry about what the inexperience is," Staley said. "We have to get better each and every day no matter what we're doing. Whether we have inexperienced or experienced players, we have to implement the type of basketball we want to play on both sides of the ball."

Finding on-court chemistry in such a short time was an even bigger challenge than overcoming the experience gap on the roster, Staley said. The group only began training camp eight days ago. Japan, by contrast, has been training for the World Cup since April.

In just more than a week, however, Staley has seen improvement. "I think we're moving in the right direction," she said.

That's not to say the team's inexperience hasn't reared its head. Against Canada on Saturday, the U.S. women had to mount a 16-point comeback. On Monday, Team USA trailed Japan by as many as seven points.

It's a small departure from the Team USA of recent. The last time the United States played Japan, at the 2016 Rio Games, it won by 46. According to Staley, it's a testament to the increase in talent seen across the globe.

"I think the world's catching up," said Staley, whose team heads to France for three more exhibition games (against Canada, Senegal and France) before the World Cup.

Wilson was the dominant force Monday for Team USA. On her first touch, she converted a tough shot off the left block, drawing the and-1 in the process. On her ensuing touch, Wilson made the same shot from the same spot. She scored six points in her first two minutes and finished with a game-high 26 points.

Wilson, who was presented with her WNBA Rookie of the Year award at halftime by league president Lisa Borders, has shined over the course of training camp and quickly emerged as one of the future faces of USA basketball. Over Team USA's two exhibition games, she's averaging 20.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, both team highs.

Staley, who coached Wilson at South Carolina, including a national championship run in 2016-17, said Wilson has expanded her offensive game as she has been exposed to different defensive schemes in the WNBA.

"She's just being A'ja. She's taking what she's given," Staley said. "The experience in the WNBA has helped her. It's helped her confidence. It's helped her grow as a basketball player."

Wilson's play during camp has veterans like Charles confident that the future of the team will be fine moving forward.

"I think [USA Basketball is] going to be in great hands, especially with A'ja at the helm of it and the way that she's playing," said Charles, who finished with 12 points and 7 rebounds. "A'ja's being an example for all the young guys."

Said Wilson: "I'm just honored to continue with these three letters across my chest. I'm just having fun."