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Staley, Wilson help USABWNT advance to FIBA Women’s World Cup semifinals

Coaching adjustments by Dawn Staley and A’ja Wilson’s 11 points propel USA past Nigeria.

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Now the real work begins.

Once again, the USA Basketball Women’s National Team (USABWNT) got off to a slow start against the history-making D’Tigress, the women’s national basketball team of Nigeria.

With six turnovers in the first five minutes of the game and two early fouls on Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury), Team USA looked rather sloppy and unprepared for the aggressive defense of Nigeria. The turnovers extended to fourteen by halftime and three fouls (including a technical foul) on Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury). USABWNT head coach Dawn Staley made a quick adjustment and subbed in A’Ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces) off the bench for Griner; Wilson poured in 9 points, Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm) added 7 points, and USA eked out a slim 27-23 lead at halftime.

Staley made further adjustments in the second half of the game, which got Team USA going. The resilient Nigerian team couldn’t sustain their energetic defensive play and Team USA pulled away with a dominant performance en route to a crushing 71-40 blowout win to make it to the semifinals. Wilson ended with 11 points and 6 rebounds and was the second-highest game scorer for both teams behind Stewart, who ended with 19 points. Former Gamecock Sarah Imovbioh added only 5 points for Nigeria and though it was a competition, received nothing but love from her former coach and the Gamecock family.

Team USA will now face the Belgium Cats on Saturday. Belgium steamrolled France 86-65 behind the trifecta of Kim Mestdagh, Julie Allemand, and Emma Meesseman (who plays in the WNBA for the Washington Mystics but took this season off to prepare for the Belgian team).

Allemand scored 9 of her 13 assists in the first half alone. This is where Team USA’s Taurasi will need to bring her A+ game as the WNBA’s all-time assists leader — and stay out of foul trouble. The entire USABWNT will need to come out swinging because Belgium will certainly do so; another slow start and costly turnovers could see USA heading home on Sunday instead of playing for an unprecedented third consecutive World Cup championship.

Wilson, as one of the new faces, will need to continue to step up against a physical Belgium team that can also shoot and move the ball. Wilson’s talent for getting to the free throw line will come in handy, and she and the rest of her Team USA teammates will need to make every free throw. There is no margin for error at this level.

Team USA will play Belgium on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN News. Should they survive Belgium, USA faces a matchup with the winner of the Australia/Spain game. The odds are that there will be another date with the incomparable Liz Cambage (Dallas Wings) and the Opals if, and only if, the USA takes care of business against Belgium. The Cambage/Griner matchup was a must-see during the regular WNBA season (they are the tallest players in the league) and that doesn’t change now that the game is overseas.

Make sure to follow FIBA, USA Basketball, and Gamecocks Women’s basketball on Twitter for the latest updates, and follow the hashtags #USABWNT, #FIBAWWC, and #DefendTheCup. You can also download the free FIBA Women’s World Cup app on both iOS and Android systems. Thanks for stopping by.