Behind double-doubles from A’ja Wilson and Brittney Griner and the veteran presence of Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, the U.S. topped Nigeria (0-1) 81-72 at Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo.
The U.S. came out sluggish, missing its first four shots and turning the ball over four times.
“I felt we had to adjust to the style of play that Nigeria was playing,” said U.S. head coach Dawn Staley. “They crowded our space for 94 feet. It took us probably a quarter and a half to really adjust to it. Once we did, we found ourselves just opening up the game.
“But those turnovers lingered throughout the entire game. And sometimes you have to win playing a different style of play, and we certainly had to do that tonight.”
The USA went on a 23-0 run and secured a 44-32 advantage at halftime. The Americans opened the second half on a 14-4 run to create a cushion, but Nigeria wouldn’t go away quietly. They went on a 12-0 run of their own to pull within 75-67 with 3:20 left. The U.S. promptly ended the Nigerians’ comeback before it became a real threat.
Wilson, in her Olympic debut, had 19 points and 13 rebounds, while Griner finished with 13 point and 10 boards. Taurasi, who along with Bird is going after a record fifth gold medal, had 10 first-half points. Though Bird didn’t score, she did have 13 assists and four rebounds. Her 11th assist gave her 100 for her Olympic career.
“Oh, my gosh, I had to get the jitters out in the beginning, but it was a great feeling,” said Wilson, the reigning WNBA MVP with the Las Vegas Aces. “My teammates really helped me kind of calm my nerves and just play my game.”
Next up for the U.S. in Group B is host Japan (1-0), which upset France (0-1) 74-70. Tipoff is Friday at 12:40 a.m. EDT.