February 8, 2024 

Team USA survives Belgium with two-point win to open Olympic Qualifying Tournament

'The adversity we faced is something I was hoping for, we got that and then some'

In the opening game of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Belgium pushed Team USA to the maximum. On Thursday in Antwerp, Belgium, the two teams battled to the end, with a tip-in lay-up from Breanna Stewart lifting the U.S. to an 81-79 win with just seconds remaining. Belgium led for most of the game, until the Americans outscored them, 24–13, in the fourth quarter, to avoid their first senior international loss since 2006.

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The U.S. has already secured its berth in the Paris Olympics after winning the World Cup in Australia in September 2022. However, it is still competing in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, a four-team, round-robin event, from which two other teams will punch tickets to the Olympics.

“The adversity we faced is something I was hoping for, we got that and then some,” USA head coach Cheryl Reeve said during the post-game press conference. “We thought we would get exactly what we got. They were shorthanded, down two starters. These types of journeys are difficult. The joy is in the journey, and that is what we asked this group to do.”

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 The 13,700 in attendance marked the largest crowd to witness a women’s sporting event in Belgium. Reeve also spoke about how she has witnessed the Belgian program grow over her long career with the national team, and labeled Emma Meesseman as one of the top five players in the world. Napheesa Collier and Meesseman are currently the two leading scorers for the Turkish club team Fenerbahçe. Team USA did limit the 2019 WNBA Finals MVP to only six points on Thursday, however.

“It was such a fun environment to be here in Belgium with a sold out crowd,” added Collier, who scored a team-high 23 points for Team USA. “It’s our first time together for a lot of us, so I was really proud of how we came together.”

As for Belgium, Julie Vanloo, point guard for Turkish club Galatasaray, led with 19 points, while Maxuella Lisowa Mbaka recorded 17 on 7-of-11 shooting.

“The loss is disappointing, but we did great,” Mbaka said in the postgame press conference. “I am proud of team and my personal game. We need to go back to work, recover and do better tomorrow.”

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On the other side of the bracket, Nigeria defeated Senegal, 72-65, on Thursday, erasing a 12-point lead. Amy Okonkwo produced 21 points and 10 rebounds for Nigeria, while Yacine Diop scored 23 for Senegal. Team USA will face Nigeria at 12:15 p.m. ET on Friday. Belgium and Senegal play directly after the first game, with the loser mathematically eliminated.

Around the globe

Three other four-team qualifying tournaments are being played this week in China, Hungary and Brazil. Japan, Canada, France, China, and Germany were all winners on Thursday, inching closer to the main goal of Paris. France is automatically qualified as hosts. The complete field of 16 across the four tournaments will be trimmed to a final 12 on Sunday.

Rizzotti to coach 3X3 team in Paris

In addition, Jennifer Rizzotti will lead the U.S. women’s 3X3 team in the Olympics. The U.S. qualified for that event as one of the top three ranked teams in the world, back in November, along with host France and China. Five other teams will qualify from three tournaments held this spring.

After winning a gold medal as an assistant on the 5X5 team at Tokyo in 2021, Rizzotti began coaching on the FIBA 3X3 Women’s Series in 2022. She went on to win 3X3 gold medals in 2023 at the World Cup, AmeriCup and Pan-American Games. Tammi Reiss, head coach at the University of Rhode Island, will serve as her assistant.

Written by Scott Mammoser

Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.

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