Commentary

Crushin' Intrigue

Updated: July 18, 2010, 3:55 PM ET
By Chris Hansen | HoopGurlz

SmithChris Hansen/ESPN.com Bria Smith has been a big part of USA bringing the defensive pressure.

RODEZ, France -- After the convincing 82-38 victory over Russia, the question for USA Basketball here at the FIBA U17 World Championships is simply: Style or substance?

Team USA defeated Russia in a landslide despite shooting just 37 percent from the field and missing 13 free throws. If this were mixed martial arts, the Americans would be labeled a ground-and-pound fighter thus far.

FIBA U17 World Championships
ESPN.com Illustration

Breanna Stewart and Elizabeth Williams combined for 32 points, 23 rebounds and two blocks with neither playing even half of the 40-minute game.

"Physical," Russian coach Ana Arkhipova Von Calmamovich said of the Americans. "They're much stronger than any European team. I think it's important. We can play with this team but today for (only) 15 minutes."

Williams had a double-double by halftime and Stewart continued to impose her will, despite rough shooting (4 of 11 from the floor) during her 13:07 minutes played.

But is that physicality and bruising way of playing the American style or a safety zone for a team that is yet to find its groove?

It is unfair to expect a blowout victory every game; however, USA National Team head coach Barb Nelson doesn't believe her team needs to wear teams down to dominate.

"I think for us it is consistent play," Nelson said. "Yesterday I felt the French matched us really, really well. They have quick guards so I think it took a little bit longer. We had to get into their bench where they weren't as deep. Today they did not match us very well and I felt like it was our non-readiness."

Yes, Team USA has a size, strength and athleticism advantage in the paint, but to simply write this team off as an interior team that just takes time to wear out the opponent isn't entirely accurate.

"For me it was the lack of having every player show up prepared," Nelson added.

A small team was deployed in the third quarter with Aerial Massengale, Jewell Loyd, Bria Smith and Morgan Tuck playing together. That group's defensive intensity really kick-started the team's running game and took a decent lead to the blowout point, as it did against the French. In both cases the opposition backed down late in the game and, to be fair, there are few teams that will continue to compete at their highest level when down more than

Cierra Burdick
Chris Hansen/ESPN.com Cierra Burdick is one of the players bringing physicality to the paint for USA Basketball.
20 points in a game.

"They were really focused and really working hard on defense and running the floor," Nelson said of her smaller lineup.

"Americans like to compete and that's what this team does," Loyd said of her team when it's at its best. "And when everyone is on the same page it just gets everyone going and we get rolling."

Next up is Canada which struggled stopping a Japanese team that moves the ball as well as anyone in the pool. Canada has Nirra Fields, a standout 2012 prospect who goes to high school in Ohio. Fields is leading the event in scoring, totaling 61 points in two games. If the defensive intensity is not there, she may give Team USA issues.

As for the U.S. perimeter play, it is yet to find a rhythm. There seems to be a mental struggle going on between feeding the post and passing up open shots. If the wing scorers get going it is unlikely the team will see challenges during pool play in the remaining three games.

The shocker and perhaps biggest threat to the USA and their pursuit of gold is the Chinese 92-75 win over Australia, a team that defeated the U.S. team in exhibition play earlier this month. The Chinese team shot 39 3-pointers against the Aussies, converting on 14 for 46 percent of their scoring.

Defending the 3-point line has not been a strong suit for the U.S., allowing 31 attempts to Russia and 24 to France. But before the Chinese long-range bombardment, Team USA needs to take care of their remaining pool play games against Canada, Turkey and Japan.

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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at chris.hansen@espn3.com.