After Monday’s exhibition game in Los Angeles between the USA National Team and USA Select Team, head coach Geno Auriemma said, “For the future of USA Basketball, there were some unbelievably positive signs out there of what the next group could potentially look like.”
Much of that statement can be attributed to the pair of young stars in Seattle.
The National Team ultimately won, 88-84, but Jewell Loyd and her fellow Select Team members put up an incredible fight, giving their opponent just the test they needed ahead of the Olympics in Brazil. Loyd scored 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting Monday night, also dishing out a game-high seven assists in 39 minutes of action. The Storm guard made an array of difficult jump shots and nifty passes in transition.
After Loyd drained her fourth three-pointer of the night to give the Select Team a 77-76 lead with four minutes left, Storm rookie Breanna Stewart came up with a number of clutch plays for the National Team. Stewart scored six of her eight points in the final minutes, and the 21-year-old forward made a crucial defensive stop when the Select Team had an opportunity to tie with 30 seconds to go.
Her team may have lost to a superior one, but it was Loyd who stole the show for much of the night.
“Jewell is fun to watch,” said Storm teammate Sue Bird, who scored six points for the National Team. “Today was one of those games that you could tell, right from the start, that she was feeling it. We’ve seen that in Seattle, and you know it’s going to be a long night for the other team. Unfortunately, I was on the other side of that tonight. Jewell did a great job. When she’s in the zone like that, it’s hard to get her out.”
Loyd, the second-year pro who was among the finalists for this year’s Olympics, guided her team to a scorching start Monday night. The Select Team led 19-8 less than three minutes into the game after a Loyd step-back jumper. She had seven points on 3-of-4 shooting along with three assists in the first quarter, and finished the half with a game-high 12 points.
Bird was in the starting lineup for the National Team, while Stewart played 13 minutes off the bench. Just the fourth WNBA rookie to ever represent the USA at the Olympics, Stewart shot 3-for-4 in Monday’s game and grabbed three rebounds.
“I’m just focused on doing whatever I can, whenever I get in the game, making sure I’m producing,” Stewart said. “Whether it’s a rebound, or an assist, or points, just trying to always bring energy off the bench.”
The National Team has three more exhibition games before tipping off the Olympics on Aug. 7 in Rio de Janeiro. Bird, Stewart and company will face France on Wednesday, Canada on Friday and Australia on Sunday (all games broadcast on NBA TV, in addition to live stream on USA Basketball Facebook page).
Loyd’s USA Basketball duties are done for now, but she made quite an impression on those who will be evaluating her for Olympic and World Cup squads in the future.