RIO DE JANEIRO – What do you get the team that has everything?
How about a powerhouse center who comes off the bench and makes like Usain Bolt?
The United States women’s basketball team is reprising its Olympic dominance in Rio, averaging 104 points per game and a 41-point margin of victory while extending its Olympic winning streak to 46.
Sunday against China, the U.S. produced an Olympic record 40 assists on 46 baskets, defying the gunning nature of so many all-star conglomerations, beating China by 43 points even with Elena Delle Donne on the bench after having her eye poked during warmups.
Winning big without Delle Donne? Done, at least in small part because Delle Donne’s injury created playing time for Lynx center Sylvia Fowles.
Fowles was named the WNBA Finals MVP last season with the Lynx largely because of play near both baskets. With the U.S. determined to beat China’s traps with ball movement, Fowles wound up running the floor. Her teammates rewarded her with the ball, and she produced 13 points in less than 17 minutes, making five of seven shots.
“She got herself in trouble,” said USA and Lynx teammate Seimone Augustus. “She doesn’t really run that hard with the Lynx. Now coach is like, ‘OK, I see what you can do.’ ”
Fowles references another conversation on the bench with Lynx coach and USA assistant Cheryl Reeve.
“This game did suit me very well,” Fowles said. “Me and coach Reeve had a moment on the bench where she said, ‘What’s going on?’ and I said, ‘you know, I like the ball better in transition.’ ”
USA coach Geno Auriemma probably could win the gold medal with any eight of his players. Fowles on the run gives him another option, and another versatile star on his bench.
“It’s unusual to have somebody that big that’s that good at catching the ball on the move,” Auriemma said. “It’s almost easier to get it to her when she’s moving than when she’s trying to post up. It’s unusual, but kind of neat.
“We’re just trying to get Syl to slow down all the time. The only time she gets herself in a jam is when she’s a little ahead of herself. I thought [Sunday] she just had a much more calm approach to the game and when she does that she can use her body in a way that there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The players’ theme after the China game was that they were thrilled with the assists and the game flow but certain that they’re going to play better as play reaches the elimination rounds. The U.S. will face Japan, which is 3-2, on Tuesday in the quarterfinals.
Fowles would be the best players on most other Olympic teams. With the U.S., she rarely has to do more than rebound … and now run.
“I’ve just told her to take off, especially when one of our other bigs is inbounding the ball,” said guard Lindsay Whalen. “I say just run as hard as you can and I’ll get it to you. She’s so athletic. She beats me down the court in sprints. She’s 6-5 and down there finishing the break.”
Now that Reeve has seen her run, she may expect that all the time in Minnesota.
Said Maya Moore: “Syl is the perfect combination of grace and power.”