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Team USA Is More Than Just OK

Brittney Griner had 15 points -- including a dunk -- in Team USA's opening win against China. Isa Terli/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The day before the United States faced China in the teams' opener at the FIBA World Championship for Women, the Americans did their best to explain why -- regardless of whether they really thought so -- they might face some difficulties.

They said the Chinese were going to play hard, they would execute well, they would be persistent, they had size on the perimeter and they were not going to act intimidated.

But the best quote the American side had about Saturday's game came from Angel McCoughtry, thanks to her simple honesty: "I think we'll be OK against China."

Indeed, Team USA started this tournament just as everyone expected them to: with an 87-56 victory against China in the first game of Group D play in Istanbul.

There had already been some excitement earlier in the day, when host nation Turkey beat France 50-48 on a 3-pointer in the final minute in Ankara. The French team had caused a little stir the past weekend when they'd defeated the United States (minus Brittney Griner) in an exhibition game.

But concern over that outcome having any negative aftermath for the Americans was dissipated pretty easily against China. Just as they did in an exhibition Sept. 20 against the Chinese (99-75), the Americans controlled the game.

Griner and Maya Moore each scored 15 points. Tina Charles owned the glass with 15 rebounds. McCoughtry had one of her "quiet" lethal games: 10 points, three rebounds and two steals in 11 ½ minutes of playing time. The Americans held the Chinese to 27.8 percent shooting from the field.

And we once again got to marvel at the talent of the USA all mixed together. It's always fun -- if you're an American who has watched these players since they were college (or maybe even before) -- to see them on the same side. Every major competition throughout the years -- World Championship or Olympics -- gives us that opportunity to witness an all-star cast at work.

Whether it's Diana Taurasi and Moore carving up an unfortunate defender on a two-on-one break or Moore's sweet pass to Griner for a dunk or Griner and Charles forming a "what do you do against that?" front line or a basket from "old guard" Lindsay Whalen off an assist from "young buck" Breanna Stewart ... it was all a smorgasbord of basketball skills, a mash-up of masterful play. And unlike an All-Star game, in which nothing truly important is on the line, these championships mean something.

To have the kind talent Team USA has going in pursuit of another gold medal -- not to mention the amount of talent that didn't make this squad or couldn't participate because of injury -- is a reminder of the fact that this is America's game, internationally.

It's not that the U.S. won't face some challenges or that the Americans can sleepwalk their way onto the medal stand next weekend. But the U.S. team is the one squad that really can control its fate. If the Americans reach a certain level of play, no one is going to beat them.

Admittedly, reaching that level is not a guarantee for every game. But what the U.S. team might sometimes lack in polish -- not having a great amount of time to practice and prepare as a unit -- it can make up for with both athleticism and determination.

There was a sequence in the second quarter Saturday that was almost comical, as two people who simply don't miss shots inside -- Charles and Moore -- combined to miss three in a row after Seimone Augustus had missed. But then, on the fifth attempt, there was Augustus with the basketball again, putting an end to it and scoring.

That was a snapshot, in a way, of this game for the Americans. They weren't flawless by any means. They shot just 25 percent from behind the 3-point arc and 46.2 percent from the free-throw line. They had some lazy defense, which will give coach Geno Auriemma good video to motivate the team for Sunday's game against Serbia. At times in the last quarter, they started to look a bit like the game was over before it actually was.

But that's the kind of nitpicking the U.S. staff will do to try to eliminate any letdown Sunday.

"We haven't seen much of them," Auriemma said of Serbia. "But I had seen them when we were scouting the European Championship. They're really tough. They're really aggressive. They put a lot of pressure on you with their defense. It's a country that has a tremendous culture of basketball. Since I've been a part of the national team program, I've never played them. So, I'm really anxious for the game [Sunday]."

But the bottom line then is very likely going to be the same as it was Saturday: red, white and blue.

"We needed a game like this: tough in the beginning, and then we kind of broke loose," McCoughtry said. "I think we are getting better. We've only been together for two weeks, but we looked really good, and I'm really proud of the team and where we are right now."

Yeah, they were OK against China.