The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have officially begun, and with that, the women's basketball tournament is just around the corner. The United States is the heavy favorite to win gold heading into its first game against Nigeria on July 27, with a stacked roster of WNBA stars. Headlined by basketball legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, Team USA will try to win a seventh straight gold medal in Tokyo, an unprecedented streak in the Olympics.
For the full schedule of games and standings, you can find that here, and below we'll break down three top storylines for Team USA heading into the tip-off of the women's basketball action in Tokyo.
1. Last dance for Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi
When Team USA takes the court against Nigeria on Tuesday, Bird and Taurasi will have officially competed in their fifth Olympic Games, an exclusive club that features just six other athletes, one of whom is former WNBA player Teresa Edwards who won four gold medals and one bronze over her time playing with Team USA from 1984 to 2000. If the U.S. can take home gold in Tokyo, Bird and Taurasi will be the only basketball players -- men or women -- to win five gold medals at the Olympics.
Bird and Taurasi, who made their first Olympic appearances in 2000 at the Athens Games, have both said this will be their last time playing for Team USA, giving the U.S. even more motivation to win gold in Tokyo. Although the two WNBA legends are past their primes in their playing careers, they both are still integral pieces to this team's success. Bird's court vision and leadership will be a necessity for a U.S. team that features six newcomers who either haven't played in the Olympics, or have never played for Team USA at all.
While Bird brings a calm, positive presence to the game, Taurasi brings a level of intensity and competitiveness that should keep Team USA sharp through adversity. Taurasi is as clutch a player as we've ever seen in the WNBA, and the U.S. will be able to lean on her veteran presence should they need it in crunch time. Taurasi didn't play in any of the exhibition games leading up to the Olympics, as she's been dealing with hip and sternum injuries that have limited her to just seven games for the Phoenix Mercury during the WNBA season. However, while she didn't play in the lead-up games to Tokyo, that doesn't mean she won't suit up for Team USA.
Taurasi recently said she's "hopeful" to suit up for the opener against Nigeria, and she's getting "a little better every day" on her road to recovery.
2. Reigning WNBA MVP makes her Olympic debut
A'ja Wilson will make her Olympic debut after playing for the national team in other FIBA sanctioned events earlier in her career. In an exhibition game against Nigeria prior to the Olympics, Wilson posted a double-double, putting up 16 points and 10 rebounds. She joins a deep wealth of forwards for Team USA, most of whom have won Olympic gold with the U.S. before. However, Wilson has been placed into the starting lineup over the likes of Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles, and for good reason. In the WNBA this season she's fifth in the league in points per game (19.4) and seventh in rebounds (7.0).
Wilson's dominant presence allows her to completely take over games on offense, and on defense she's essentially a brick wall. In the exhibition games against Nigeria and Australia, she was sharing the floor with Breanna Stewart and Brittney Griner, making it difficult for opposing teams to get into any rhythm in the paint. The U.S. already had a size advantage over other teams in the Olympics, and adding Wilson to the roster only adds to that.
She'll also be reuniting with her college coach in Dawn Staley, who will be leading the U.S. team in the Olympics for the first time, taking over for Geno Auriemma. When Wilson played under Staley at South Carolina, she led her team to a national championship and proceeded to be selected No. 1 overall in the 2018 WNBA Draft. Staley and Wilson have a close relationship on and off the floor, and being together again in Tokyo will be a benefit for the team's chemistry.
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3. Teams that can challenge the United States
The United States is riding into the Olympics with a lot of active streaks, including 49 straight Olympic wins and six straight Olympic gold medals. To say it's the favorite to win it all is a monumental understatement. However, if the exhibition games taught us anything, it's that no win is guaranteed. After losing to the WNBA All-Stars, followed by a loss to the Australian national team who was without its best player in Liz Cambage, the U.S. team showed some uncharacteristic behavior, something that other teams in the tournament can try to capitalize on. In group play, Team USA will have to face fifth-ranked France, a team that finished second in the Eurobasket tournament this year.
Later on in the tournament, other teams that could challenge the U.S. are the reigning Eurobasket champion Serbia, as well as Spain and Belgium, the latter of which finished third in the Eurobasket tournament. The Serbian team benefits from the momentum of the Eurobasket championship in late June, which also gives it a leg up in terms of chemistry as this team has been playing together longer than some of the other teams in the tournament. Spain is the third-ranked team in the world, and finished second behind the U.S. at the 2016 Rio Games.
While Team USA might not be in real trouble in terms of not winning a gold medal in Tokyo, there are still a couple of teams in the tournament that can make their journey to capturing a seventh straight gold medal a bit more difficult. The U.S. starts group play against Nigeria at 12:40 a.m. ET Tuesday.