A familiar face was positioned by the bench as the women’s national basketball team took on Japan in an exhibition match Monday night at the Smith Center.
The game was the final in a series of three to prepare for the International Basketball Association’s Basketball World Cup. Women’s basketball head coach Jennifer Rizzotti served as an assistant coach for the squad and helped lead the United States to beat Japan 102–87.
“Japan’s a good team, they played on our heels and they made us play a little bit differently than we’re used to playing,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “But I thought we just found good combinations out there on the floor that opened the game up for us.”
The United States outscored Japan 35-18 in the final frame to pull out the victory, going 66.7 percent from the field on 12-for-18 shooting. The Japanese team was limited to six made field goals – their lowest of the night.
The U.S. team was led by forward A’Ja Wilson – the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year – with 26 points and five rebounds and forward Nneka Ogwumike with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Rizzotti, who crafted the defensive scouting report for the team, said it was a “difficult” task.
“This role challenges you in every way because every team we’re playing against is good,” she said. “They’re professional players. They’re well-coached.”
The Japanese team went 4-for-13 from the three-point line to open the game and limited the U.S. team to one made three-point shot in the same frame.
The game was tight for most of the night, with neither team holding more than a two-point lead at the end of each quarter until the final frame.
Heading into the locker room, Japan held a 46–45 lead over the United States. Forward Maki Takada proved to be Rizzotti’s biggest defensive challenge of the night. She led the Japanese team went 5-for-9 from the field and 2-for-5 from beyond the arch to collect 16 points and four rebounds on the night.
Guard Kelsey Plum found herself running the offense for the United States in the same point position Rizzotti played during her college and professional careers.
Plum ended the night with nine points and three assists in 27 minutes of play. After the team overcame a first-half deficit to beat Canada in an exhibition game Saturday, Plum said she and Rizzotti analyzed film together to prepare for Japan.
“She has a great mind for the game,” Plum said. “It’s a blessing to be able to be coached by her.”
The third quarter saw the United States outscored 23-22 by the Japanese to keep the game close before the U.S. took over the final frame and charged ahead 102–87 to conclude the contest.
The U.S. team has won two-consecutive golds at the International Basketball Association’s Basketball World Cup heading into this year’s competition and have won the tournament in four times of the last five meetings.
With the level of competition that much higher on the international level, Rizzotti said the trust and comfort level with other members of the team will help the team get better in future games.
“We just played two really good teams that took us to the four quarter,” Rizzotti said. “So also understanding that nothing is easy in this competition and we can’t take anything for granted and that everybody’s important.”
Monday night’s contest was the third and final match in a weeklong swing of exhibitions for the team as they prepare for the FIBA World Cup.
The U.S. team will now head to Antibes, France, to play in a four-team tournament starting Saturday before heading to the Canary Islands to compete for gold at the World Cup from Sept. 22-30.
Rizzotti said her time working alongside Staley and coaching some of the best women’s basketball players has
improved her expertise as a coach – preparing her to lead the women’s program even though she has been pulled internationally ahead of the team’s season.
“It’s good for them to see what I’m doing and see how engaged I am and see the level that I’m being challenged at,” Rizzotti said. “Because they know I’m going to come back to them in October and be really ready for them.”
Rizzotti will be back to leading the Colonials on the court Nov. 8 when the team opens its nonconference slate against James Madison.