Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com 36d

Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi lead Team USA over Stanford in exhibition

WNBA, Olympic Sports, Women's Olympic Basketball, Phoenix Mercury, Seattle Storm, Dallas Wings

STANFORD, Calif. -- Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi have been on the USA women's national team since the early 2000s, and each have four gold medals. Still, there was curiosity about how they and Skylar Diggins-Smith would play Saturday as Team USA took on preseason No. 3-ranked Stanford.

The answer: All three guards were glad to get back to action as the Americans beat the Cardinal 95-80 at Maples Pavilion, led by Stanford alum Nneka Ogwumike's 23 points and 12 rebounds.

Seattle's Bird and Dallas' Diggins-Smith did not play at all this WNBA season, Bird because of knee surgery and Diggins-Smith because she took time off after having a baby. Phoenix's Taurasi played just six games but never looked very comfortable after having back surgery and dealing with hamstring problems.

On Saturday, Bird played 25 minutes, 47 seconds and had seven points on 3-of-4 shooting and eight assists. Taurasi (16:55) was 2-of-6 from the field for six points with three assists. Diggins-Smith (20:49) was 2-of-7 from the field for six points with two assists.

"I was back in my element," said Diggins-Smith, wiping away what she said were happy tears after the game. "That was my first game action in 14 months -- since we played Phoenix in the playoffs [in August 2018]. I'm proud of myself -- but at the same time, I'm competitive, and I want to get better. But this is a great opportunity over the next week."

The Americans will play No. 7 Oregon State on Monday, No. 6 Texas A&M on Thursday and No. 1 Oregon next Saturday.

"Sue said to me today, 'Don't overthink it,'" said Diggins-Smith, the 29-year-old former Notre Dame star. "It's like riding a bike, but I haven't ridden a bike in a while. I have so much support from this team, and that helped me a lot."

Bird, who returned to 5-on-5 practice just in the past two weeks, said she felt "normal," while back on court. At 39, she is the oldest player on the national team and like fellow UConn alum Taurasi is seeking her fifth appearance in the Olympics next year.

"It's always nice to get that first game under your belt when you've been out," Bird said. "Your timing and rhythm you can only really get back by playing in games. And our team will just get better. I'm the kind of player who thrives with chemistry, and hopefully things will keep growing with this group."

Taurasi first tried to play during the WNBA season on July 12, but she saw only 16 minutes time and went 0-of-4 from the field, realizing she wasn't quite ready. Then she returned for games on Aug. 25, 27 and 29 and Sept. 1 and 3. But she was 4-of-39 from the field -- 1-of-24 from 3-point range -- combined in those games.

"Today, I felt really good about things," said Taurasi, 37. "There's nothing like just getting out on court and playing. Just to do a couple of things I didn't get to do for a while.

"As the game went along today, you saw who Skylar is -- that aggressive, powerful player. And Sue looked like Sue of old: distribute, distribute, distribute, and she's the consummate leader."

One other veteran guard on Team USA, Minnesota's Seimone Augustus, could relate to her teammates who are getting their legs under them now with the team. She dealt with knee issues this season and played just 12 games, debuting on Aug. 6. Augustus, who will be 36 in April, already has announced that next season will be her last in the WNBA. She has played in Olympics three previous times.

"I feel way better now than in the season when I came back," said Augustus, who was 4-of-5 from the field on Saturday for eight points in 19 minutes of play. "All of us were kind of nervous; we all have some things physically we were dealing with. Just to see the confidence each one of us came out with and focusing on what we need to do -- it was great to see. We're healed; it's just a matter of getting over that mental hurdle."

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