Australia stuns US women 70-67 in pre-Olympic exhibition

Jul 16, 2021, 1:46 AM | Updated: 3:24 pm

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Breanna Stewart and her U.S. Olympic teammates aren’t panicking, even though they’ve lost consecutive games for the first time in a decade.

Two days after losing to a team of WNBA All-Stars, the Americans fell to Australia 70-67 on Friday in a pre-Olympic exhibition game.

“There’s a standard and the standard is winning and we haven’t gotten to that point yet,” said Stewart, who scored 17 points for the U.S. “It’s frustrating, it’s part of the game and part of the process. When we get to Tokyo and get to the Olympics that’s when it’s really, really crunch time. We’re continuing to elevate and get better every day. We’ll get to where we want to be.”

The U.S. struggled from the outside, missing 16 of its 18 3-point attempts. The Americans, who got together as a team for the first time earlier this week, also had 18 turnovers.

“In the third quarter we turned the ball over and gave Australia too many easy baskets,” U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. “We were able to defend when we’re in front of them. When we turned the ball over, we weren’t able to get back.”

It was the first time the U.S. has lost back-to-back games since 2011 in Spain. The Americans had gone 29-2 since then in exhibition games.

Ezi Magbegor, Stewart’s Seattle Storm teammate, scored 17 points to lead Australia.

Stewart’s three-point play tied the game at 66 with 2:59 left before Magbegor scored and Marianna Tolo made a reverse layup with 2 minutes remaining to give Australia a 70-66 advantage.

The U.S. missed seven straight shots before Brittney Griner was fouled with 17 seconds left. She made one of two free throws.

After a timeout, the U.S. committed four consecutive fouls to try and get Australia to the foul line. After the fourth foul, Australia turned the ball over with 10.9 seconds left, but Stewart’s 3-pointer before the buzzer was off the mark.

The loss comes on the heels of the U.S. men dropping exhibitions against Nigeria and Australia this week.

The Opals’ victory came hours after star center Liz Cambage withdrew from the team, citing mental and physical health concerns. She had been worried about the experience at the Tokyo Games, with players isolated in a bubble-like environment. Cambage posted a statement on social media late Thursday night saying the prospect of having no friends, no family, no fans and no support system outside the women’s basketball squad was “honestly terrifying.”

“It hasn’t been easy definitely,” said Australia coach Sandy Brondello, who had never beaten the U.S. as a coach or player. “It shows the character of this team. I wasn’t sure what the game would look like today.”

Brondello said the team supports Cambage’s decision.

“Mental health is a real issue. For now she’s not going to be with us, we’re focused on the future and not the past,” Brondello said.

Even without Cambage, the Australians put forth a stellar effort. The Opals were down 13 at the half before rallying against the No. 1 team in the world that has a 49-game winning streak in the Olympics.

Australia took a 59-58 advantage early in the fourth — its first lead since the second quarter. The Opals increased the lead to 66-62 with 3:25 left before the Americans tied it.

Australia led 25-24 early in the second quarter before the U.S. closed the period with a 17-3 run. Stewart had eight points during the spurt.

The Americans led 41-28 at the half before Australia got back into the game behind solid outside shooting to trail 56-51 heading into the fourth quarter.

The U.S. will be trying to win a seventh consecutive gold medal at the Tokyo Games.

The Americans were missing Diana Taurasi, who suffered a hip injury in practice a few weeks ago and missed the final three games before the Olympic break for the Phoenix Mercury. She was on a stationary bike warming up before the game.

The U.S. will face Nigeria in an exhibition on Sunday before heading to Tokyo. The Americans also open pool play at the Olympics against Nigeria.

COVID-19 CONCERNS

The game was supposed to be part of a doubleheader against Australia, with the U.S. men facing the team that beat them earlier in the week. The men’s game was canceled late Thursday because of health and safety protocols.

The cancellation came hours after Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal was ruled out of the Olympics after being placed in COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The team also said Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant also was in the protocols “out of an abundance of caution.”

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