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‘It feels good’: U.S. women get 1st exhibition win

LAS VEGAS — The U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team was in unfamiliar territory after dropping two exhibition games in a row for the first time in a decade.

The Americans rebounded with a strong effort to beat Nigeria 93-62 on Sunday in the final pre-Olympic exhibition tuneup for both teams.

“It feels good,” U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. “To come out and play the way we did on both sides of the basketball. We shared it, got our bigs the ball. We made a concerted effort to do that. I think everyone in the locker room feels good about being able to impact the game in a lot of different ways.”

A’ja Wilson scored 16 points and Breanna Stewart added 14 to lead the U.S., which dropped consecutive exhibition games for the first time since 2011 with losses to the WNBA All-Stars and Australia this week.

“No one wants to be on the team that loses,” Wilson said. “I was a little like, ‘Uh-oh.’ People talk and jump the gun, say everything and anything. The vets were like, ‘It’s OK. It’s part of the game — we’ll get back.’ Coach came in today and said we’re getting back to our dominance and that helped me feel a little more at ease. The people we have in the locker room are so talented. We know what we were doing.”

The Americans got off to a strong start, racing to a 20-4 lead. After shooting 2-for-18 from behind the 3-point arc in the loss to Australia, the U.S. pounded the ball inside early and often against Nigeria. The first 10 points came from Wilson and Brittney Griner.

The U.S. led 29-15 after one quarter as Stewart had 10 points. Griner took over in the second quarter to help the Americans extend the lead to 55-34 at the half. Nigeria never made a run in the second half against the U.S., which was missing Diana Taurasi for the third straight exhibition game as she recovers from a hip injury.

She said Saturday that she’d be ready for the Olympics.

Nigeria’s roster is still undetermined for the Olympics that begin next week. The African nation was trying to get Nneka Ogwumike and Elizabeth Williams to play for them. The two have filed appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in a last-ditch effort, said two people familiar with the situation.

The pair were notified earlier this week by FIBA that their petition to play for the African nation had been denied because they played for the U.S. national program for too long. The people spoke Friday to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because no official announcement had been made.

The two WNBA players would need to have FIBA’s decision overturned by Sunday night’s registration deadline for the Olympics or have the CAS grant them a provisional allowance and add them to the roster until a hearing can occur.

Nigeria coach Otis Hughley Jr. wasn’t sure when and how the CAS would decide.

“I wish I could answer those questions. I don’t know the answers to those questions,” he said. “I’m locked into the girls we have who are eligible. I hope and pray that changes. … It would be a welcome addition.”

Hughley was disappointed that FIBA wouldn’t allow Ogwumike and Williams to play for Nigeria in the Olympics.

“It’s unfortunate it’s coming out the way it is,” he said. “The parents and grandparents are both born there. Why would you not certify them? … Every country on this earth, there’s an African on them. Why wouldn’t you let these children return to their own roots?”

Williams did play for Nigeria in the exhibition game, while Ogwumike and her sister Chiney, who was approved to play as a naturalized player for Nigeria, were on the bench but not suited up.

Nneka Ogwumike didn’t make the U.S. Olympic roster, which set off the chain of events that led to her trying to play for Nigeria, where she and her sisters hold dual citizenship.

Erica Ogwumike, the youngest of the four Ogwumike sisters, had five points for Nigeria. Atonye Nyingifa scored nine points to lead the team.

Nigeria has been a team on the rise, reaching the quarterfinals of the World Cup in 2018 before losing to the U.S.

These two teams will open against each other in the Olympics on July 27.

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