President Obama missed the U.S. women’s basketball team’s 99-67 victory over Brazil Monday night at Verizon Center, but he arrived just in time to give the players a few parting thoughts.
“We talked a little health care, tax breaks,” Diana Taurasi said with a smile.
“He just said represent your country well, and that he’s proud,” Lindsay Whalen added.
And after Whalen’s performance, the president should be proud. The veteran point guard has never had the star power of some of her more well-known teammates, but she certainly turned in a star effort Monday, leading all scorers with 21 points.
“I don’t think early on in Lindsay’s career, she probably got enough respect or enough exposure to let people know just how good she really is,” coach Geno Auriemma said. “She just grows on you, the more you’re around her … [and] she’s gotten better and better and better every year.”
Whalen took time after practice this weekend to shoot with Minnesota Lynx teammate Seimone Augustus. She wanted to make sure she was ready, and her performance Monday made it clear that she was.
The 30-year-old was set to be the back-up point guard to Sue Bird, but after Bird returned home to deal with a death in her family, Whalen stepped up and shot 8-of-12 from the floor. She also chipped in five rebounds and five assists.
“When you play with someone like Lindsay, it makes the game pretty easy,” said Taurasi, who finished with 16 points and a game-high four 3-pointers. “Just run and she’ll find you open.”
Several players have said Team USA’s depth is its greatest strength, and Whalen was the latest example of that. Yet the team also benefited from a balanced attack in which five players finished in double figures.
It was an acceptable result for an American squad that is still trying to figure itself out. Most of the team didn’t arrive in the District until Friday evening, and the ongoing WNBA season has prevented any organized practices besides a training session in May. The situation has left Auriemma with a brief window of time to gauge his players’ strengths and weaknesses.
“What kind of personality is this team going to have?” he asked Saturday. “What is our identity going to be?”
The victory offered some answers, but Auriemma also recognized that Team USA still has some steps to take. The Americans caused 29 turnovers and showed glimpses of a stingy press defense that gave the Brazilians fits. But they also had 22 turnovers of their own and looked out of sync at times.
“We have moments where we look really good and people share the ball at the right spots, and then you can tell we’ve only had two days of practice,” Taurasi said. “But if you peak now, then you really don’t have anything to look forward to. Each session that we have in the gym we have to take advantage of it, and just get better little by little.”
The United States will continue to gel as it travels to England for another exhibition game Wednesday. The win over Brazil was an important first step in the team’s quest for a fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal.
But still the coolest part of the night was meeting President Obama.
“Regardless of whether you voted for him or you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, when you’re in the presence of the President, you’re in the presence of the President,” Auriemma said.
Said Whalen: “That was pretty cool.”