The FIBA Women's Basketball 2018 World Cup tournament kicked off Saturday in Tenerife, Spain, and Team USA is on course to make history.
The squad of 12 is on a quest for a third consecutive championship—something the American women have never before achieved. So far, they’re on track, beating Team Senegal in Saturday’s opener by 20 points, and Team China by 12 points in a game yesterday.
Here, history and background on the USA Basketball Women's National Team, what lies ahead for them in the 16-team tournament, and more information on the World Cup, including how and when to watch.
The FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, formerly known as the Basketball World Championship for Women, is the biggest international women’s basketball competition.
“Around the world, it is the highest-level tournament you can play in,” Carol Callan, director of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team, tells SELF. Similarly to the Olympics, the World Cup is held every four years in different host cities around the globe. According to FIBA archives, since the inaugural tournament in 1953, only four countries have ever clinched gold: the U.S., Russia, Brazil, and Australia. The U.S. currently holds the record for the most titles with nine, followed by Russia (six) and Brazil and Australia (one each).
The week-plus-long tournament is typically held in late September, and consists of 16 teams with the best track records from across FIBA's four regions: Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe.
This year’s American World Cup team was formed just several weeks ago, and includes a mix of veterans and newcomers.
According to Callan, a group of 20-something WNBA players were invited to tryouts on September 2 in Columbia, South Carolina. The final World Cup roster of 12 was determined over the course of practices and exhibition games played during the following weeks. Players were cut, and new players were added as more athletes became available as the WNBA playoffs came to a close. The final roster includes both veterans-slash-legends and athletes who have never before played on a World Cup team.
Players in the former group include Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm and Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury, both four-time Olympians and “two of the best players ever in women’s basketball,” per USA Basketball. “They are the heart and soul of our team,” adds Callan.
Other veterans include Tina Charles of the New York Liberty, Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury, Elena Delle Donne of the Washington Mystics, Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks, and Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm, who was recently named the 2018 WNBA MVP.
Newcomers include A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces (who, at 22, is the youngest member of the squad), Kelsey Plum, also of the Las Vegas Aces, Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm, and Layshia Clarendon and Morgan Tuck, both of the Connecticut Sun.
The group first played together less than a week ago (!) in a pre-tournament scrimmage against Australia on Wednesday, September 21, per ESPN.
That short period of preparation, which is largely unavoidable due to the players’ WNBA commitments, is challenging on the team dynamic, says Callan. “In a team sport, you need time together to develop camaraderie,” she explains. “Last Wednesday was really the first time we finalized the team, and that’s a short period of time for preparation.”
Another challenge that the American athletes face is adapting to the different styles of play used by athletes from other countries. “In the U.S., there is generally one style of play,” explains Callan. “But in the World Cup, there are a variety of styles of play, and it can be difficult to adapt to them. Other countries have gotten better and better and better. You have to really be sharp.”
Since the tournament began on Saturday at the Quico Cabrera Arena in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, both veteran and new athletes have led the team.
Standouts from the Senegal game include Ogwumike, who attempted 10 shots—and made all 10—including six baskets from the field and four from the free throw line for a total of 16 points. Her 6-for-6 shooting tied a USA Basketball World Cup record set in 1998 by Lisa Leslie and matched in 2002 by Natalie Williams, per USA Basketball.
Veteran Delle Donne was the highest scorer of the Senegal game with 19 points, and newcomer Wilson, recently named the 2018 WNBA Rookie of the Year, contributed 15 points.
In the face-off against China, Olympic gold medalist Breanna Stewart, who recently won her first WNBA title with the Seattle Storm, led the team in scoring with 23 points, six rebounds and four assists, per TeamUSA.org. Wilson stepped up again, contributing 20 points, six rebounds, three blocks, and three steals, and Charles added another 16 points, according to USA Basketball.
A win for Team USA at this year’s World Cup would go down in the history books.
Sunday’s win against China qualified Team USA for the quarterfinals and brought the team’s winning streak at the World Cup to 18 games. That said, the game was a close one, and the 12-point margin marked the closest match between the teams in 35 years, per USA Basketball.
If Team USA can clinch gold this year, it will mark their 10th victory at the World Cup, and as mentioned, the first time the American team has ever won three times in a row.
Such a feat would have “great significance,” says Callan. “It would solidify the team’s reputation and we have a lot of players who have been in multiple World Cups, so it would solidify them as great players over time.”
The squad needs to win three more games this week to make that happen, and their biggest threats moving forward are France, Spain, and Australia, says Callan.
Here’s how and when to watch the rest of the tournament.
The tournament continues through Sunday, and Team USA plays again tomorrow (Tuesday), facing off against Latvia (0-2), at 1 P.M. ET. The quarterfinals will be on Friday, September 28, the semifinals will be on Saturday, September 29, and the finals will be on Sunday, September 30 at 3 P.M. ET, per ESPN.
You can catch highlights on FIBA’s official YouTube channel, and watch the action live via LiveBasketball.tv (subscription needed). The majority of the games from the tournament will also be broadcast on ESPN+, and the finals will air on ESPN.