WUHAN, China –
As the U.S. Armed Forces women’s basketball players began warmups in their matchup against host China Monday, a raucous crowd filed into Wuhan’s Hankou Culture and Sports Center. About 60 uniformed Chinese military sat on one end while China’s towering front line slowly made their way onto the court.
After beating France Saturday and losing to Brazil Sunday, the U.S. players faced their toughest challenge in the CISM Military World Games, held every four years by the international military sports council.
China had four players 6-3 or taller, including 6-9 WNBA draftees Han Xu and 6-7 Li Yueru, who passed on playing in the WNBA this season to compete for the Chinese military team. The Chinese entered the contest averaging 119.5 points per game, nearly double the U.S. average of 61.5.
“You cannot teach and sometimes they say you can’t even coach size,” said U.S. coach Paul Parker Jr.
The U.S. came out determined to deny entry passes to China’s massive front line. Led by Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Danica Dale, who scored eight first-quarter points, the U.S. women raced to an early 14-11 lead.
Then Dale had to leave the contest with two fouls and the Chinese players swiftly took command of the game, going on a 12-0 run.
Instead of using their post players, the Chinese posted up their wing players who also had size advantage over the U.S. team.
Chinese forward Jin Jiabao scored a blistering 17 first-half points in only 14 minutes, including 5 of 7 three-pointers. China (3-0) led the U.S. 62-28 at halftime, fueled by a second quarter where they outscored the U.S. women 33-10.
“It kind of broke the game open,” said veteran guard and Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Christie Ayers.
The U.S. (1-2) didn’t back down. The U.S. players played a much tougher second half, finally connecting on 6 of 8 three-pointers in the second half. And despite facing the imposing Chinese who also had speedy wings, the U.S. committed only 8 turnovers. Dale led the U.S. women with 12 points while Charmaine Clark had 11 points and 7 rebounds.
“The way those ladies played tonight, I’m very proud of them,” said Parker, despite the final score of 119-71.
“They could have quit on us. … they could have quit on each other,” he said. “They didn’t; they fought to the last minute.”
The U.S. women dropped two of their first three contests in the tournament, struggling to create quality shots on the perimeter, a noted strength heading into the tournament.
After edging France 67-65 in their opener, the U.S. dropped a tough 68-56 loss to Brazil where the USA players also held an early lead.
Heading into the World Games, the U.S. boasted perhaps its top outside shooting lineup. Veteran guard Christie Ayers said the team looked to achieve a more balanced attack, as Cromartie and Danica Adams have had some success scoring in the paint. The U.S. connected on only 4 of 15 three-point shots vs Brazil though, and in the first half vs China only managed 1 of 9. Army Capt. Taylor Alton leads the U.S. women in three-point shooting.
“I feel like we’ve played hard,” Ayers said. “We’ve stuck together. We saw the chance to walk away with a medal, so we’re not going to give up from here. We’re just going to try to continue to execute and stay focused.”