Forty years ago in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, the first U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball team took the court for their second international competition. Led by head coach Billie Jean Moore and co-captains Juliene Simpson and Pat Head (who would go on to become the legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt), the team would exceed all expectations and leave Canada with a silver medal and the world’s respect.
A lot has changed in the 40 years since the first time the USA touted its first women’s basketball team. In 1976, the team wasn’t even expected to qualify for the games; in 2016, the U.S. Women’s team isn’t expected to lose a game. Since the 1996 Olympics, they’ve won 40 consecutive games and have won five consecutive gold medals. In that span of dominance they’ve played in one game where they won by fewer than 10 points, a four-point victory over Russia in 2004. The U.S. men’s national team gets all of the fanfare, but it’s been the women who have completely obliterated international competition – and there is no reason to expect things to change for these 2016 Olympic Games.
For these games, the team will be led by UConn women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma for the second consecutive Olympic Games – the first time in the history on the women’s side a head coach has come back to coach the team. Leading the team on the floor is all-universe guard Maya Moore and forward Elena Delle Donne, who is playing in her first Olympic Games. Look for Moore to carry the team as she has everywhere she’s played. She can score from just about anywhere on the floor and has a penchant for hitting big shots at all the right moments.
Delle Donne not only adds size but adds a kind of flexibility that this team didn’t have four years ago. She’s a fantastic interior defender, can score with her back to the basket or bring opposing bigs out to the perimeter to knock down the long ball or spread the floor for penetrating U.S. guards. Delle Donne came off the bench in all exhibition games leading up to the Olympics, but her contributions on both ends of the floor have her looking like the second or third best player on the team.
Another newcomer, Brittany Griner, will also help this iteration of the USWNT look even better than they have in the past. Defense hasn’t typically been an issue as their average margin of victory over the last five Olympics is nearly 30, but with Griner working as the best post defender and help defender in the women’s game, perimeter defenders are allowed to increase aggression and pick up full or three-quarters court after made baskets – and there will be a lot of made baskets.
You’ll be hard pressed to find any weaknesses with this team. There is a healthy mix of veterans (nine women on the roster already have a gold medal) and youth (No. 1 overall draft pick Breanna Stewart made the team). Moore and Diana Taurasi are all-world scorers. The front line featuring Delle Donne, Griner, Tina Charles and Lindsay Whalen may be the best collection the U.S. women have put into international competition. Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen are among the best point guards in the world – men or women. Tamika Catchings and Seimone Augustus are utility tools you can plug and play into any situations and work as emotional leaders, too.
The biggest competition the U.S. women will face hail from Australia and Spain. Two years ago, the Spanish national team played the Americans tough in the 2014 World Championships, losing in the gold medal game 77-64. Australia features a ton of talent in Elizabeth Cambage, Marianna Tolo, Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips. They’ve typically played the Americans better than anyone else, but will be without Lauren Jackson, who recently retired due to knee issues.
The U.S. women kick off play in Group B on Sunday, August 7 against Senegal at 11 a.m. EST. They’ll have their first real test against Spain on Monday, and finish out group play against Serbia, Canada and China before the medal rounds begin on August 16.