TENERIFE, Spain – South Carolina women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley and recent graduate A’ja Wilson led the United States to an 87-67 win over Senegal in the opening round of group play in the 2018 FIBA Women’s World Cup in Tenerife, Spain, on Saturday afternoon. Wilson’s 15 points were the third most on the team as the Americans officially opened the Staley era with a 20-point victory.
"I thought it was a really competitive game, from start to finish," Staley said. "It took us a little bit longer to gain a respectable lead, and that was … you have to credit Senegal for coming out and putting us back on our heels. But, the game is 40 minutes, and the beautiful thing about our team is we got depth, and that is the thing that we will have to utilize throughout this entire World Cup. And fortunately for us tonight, our depth was the thing that allowed us to open the game up and win the game."
After a tight first quarter that saw the United States hold just an 18-17 lead, the second quarter opened up the game. Midway through the period, the Americans final opened up a multiple-possession advantage after a Tina Charles blocked shot led to a Diana Taurasi 3-pointer for a 30-25 advantage. After assisting on Breanna Stewart’s layup, Charles’ defensive rebound keyed a Sue Bird 3 to further stretch the lead, 32-25. A 7-2 run over the next two minutes made it a 39-27 game, and the Americans closed the quarter with a 45-31 halftime lead.
Senegal played the final two quarters close, but could not overcome the sizable American advantage.
Four Americans finished with double-figure points, including Wilson who proved difficult to manage for Senegal as five of her 15 points came from the free throw line in her 18 minutes of action. Elena Delle Donne led all scorers with 19 points, while Nneka Ogwumike added 16 and Stewart tallied 14.
"It felt great, really just embracing my role and the players that I am around, some of the greats of the game, and I'm just taking it all in," Wilson said of her first World Cup experience. "I had a lot a fun, and I'm just taking it step-by-step, game-by-game."
The U.S. team will play two more games in group play, taking on China on Sun., Sept. 23, at 1 p.m. EDT before facing Latvia at 1 p.m. on Tue., Sept. 25. Both remaining preliminary-round games will be televised on ESPN+.