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US Women’s National Team begin chase for gold vs. Nigeria

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2021 USA Basketball Training Camp: All-Access Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The journey begins here. The United States women's national team has been the gold standard in international play for close to two decades. The team has won the last six gold medals and are looking to stand atop the medal stand one more time.

The first opponent for the United States will be Nigeria. The Nigerian team has made gains over the years, but they're unlikely to win gold. However this appearance goes, it'll be a success as this is their first Olympic appearance since 2004 in Athens.

Where to follow the game

USA Network on TV. Time difference is gonna kick our butts all month long, so tip off will be after 12:40 AM Eastern time.

Injuries

Diana Taurasi has been hampered by injuries all WNBA season long but plans to be available today.

Nigeria has had major roster questions, which we’ll get into momentarily.

The game

Politics plays a role in every Olympics, and roster politics reared its ugly head early on. Nneka Ogwumike has been one of the best players in women's basketball for close to a decade now and has ably represented the USA internationally. All that made it a sure bet she'd be here in Tokyo, however Team USA went in another direction. Determined to play, Ogwumike and Elizabeth Williams sought to join the Nigerian team, but FIBA blocked them from doing so. It's an unfortunate situation that should have been completely avoided by the powers that be, and hopefully they get themselves in order for next time.

During the WNBA season, it was reported that 99 percent of the players in the W were vaccinated against COVID-19. It’s a great thing they are because the Olympic Village is a COVID hotspot. Athletes that were slated to participate in the games have had to be removed from competition thanks to COVID, so getting the Games off without a hitch is going to be a Herculean challenge. This won’t be easy.

It feels like guard play takes on even more importance in international competition. For Team USA, the duo of Sue Bird and Skylar Diggins-Smith will be running point. Team USA’s strength is in the frontcourt, but Diggins and her ability to break defenders down off the dribble combined with Bird’s three point shooting will keep the offense humming.

Although Team Nigeria doesn’t have the cache of USA, they can pose a threat. Jackie Powell of Bleacher Report has more:

Team Nigeria’s identity is contingent upon turning opponents over for easy offense. But Nigeria needs to make sure it can score off every takeaway and looks after the ball itself. Look for Atonye Nyingifa and Ify Ibekwe to lead team Nigeria along with a blast of energy off the bench from Duke alumna Oderah Chidom, Erica Ogwumike and current Duke transfer Elizabeth Balogun.

Ball possession is critically important where ever you play, so Dawn Staley’s club will need to be on top of their games today.

Player to watch: Breanna Stewart

A frontcourt duo of A’ja Wilson and Stewart sounds like a match made in heaven. Wilson punishes teams on the inside and with this being her Olympic debut, the 2020 WNBA MVP will look to make a statement. The 2020 Finals MVP will be playing alongside Wilson and her ability to space the floor at her size in addition to scoring efficiently from everywhere on the court makes her an impossible matchup for opponents. Team USA had a rocky exhibition slate, but now that the team has gotten some games under their belt, look for them to get off to a great start today.

From the Vault

It feels like this Olympics will be the end of an era for Bird and Taurasi. 2008 had a similar vibe as it was the last Olympic Games for Katie Smith, Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson.