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Dawn Staley era opens with win as U.S. women's basketball routs China

Dawn Staley won her head coaching debut with the U.S. women's national team, which beat China 83-46 in an exhibition game Thursday in Seattle. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

SEATTLE -- Before her first game as coach of the U.S. women's national basketball team, an exhibition Thursday against China at KeyArena to culminate three days of training camp in Seattle, Dawn Staley said the goal was simple: Win the game.

"We want to continue to create an atmosphere of winning," Staley said Wednesday. "We might not be at full strength in terms of everybody who's available to play, but we want to prove there's not a lot of drop-off in the roster."

Mission accomplished. While China tied the score during the second quarter, the U.S. women finished the first half with 17 unanswered points and never looked back in an 83-46 victory.

"I thought we had a good showing," Staley said afterwards. "We got off to a fast start, slowed down in the second quarter and then we picked it back up. That's the true mark of what USA Basketball is all about: being able to insert a lot of talent into the game."

As expected, Staley took advantage of the exhibition setting to get a look at the entirety of her roster. With several USA mainstays still playing overseas, there was a mix of international veterans -- including four-time Olympic gold medalists Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who again started together in the backcourt -- and younger talents like Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jewell Loyd trying to work their way onto the roster for this fall's FIBA World Cup.

The United States used 12 players in the first half -- everyone available except Connecticut Sun forward Morgan Tuck, who replaced Elena Delle Donne of the Washington Mystics on Thursday when Delle Donne was ruled out for precautionary reasons with a neck strain suffered in practice.

There might have been some nerves at play for the younger players, who were on the court as China made a run. Layshia Clarendon of the Atlanta Dream admitted as much after the game, pointing out the magnitude of the setting: "You're chasing a dream."

Clarendon committed a pair of early turnovers, one of them a miscommunication with Loyd. Clarendon's pass sailed out of bounds when Loyd cut to the basket instead of fading to the 3-point line as Clarendon expected.

There was no such uncertainty with the veteran starters back on the court as the United States established its dominance late in the second quarter and early in the third. Across halftime, the U.S. women scored 25 unanswered points, including 14 from center Sylvia Fowles. The starting frontcourt of Fowles and Breanna Stewart took advantage of superior quickness and mobility against overmatched Chinese post players.

Fowles led all scorers with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting, while Stewart -- playing in front of a supportive crowd on the same court she calls home with the Seattle Storm -- had 14 points, three assists and three blocks.

"Out there with Dee (Taurasi) and Sue and Stewie, we had an opportunity to play with each other in previous years," Fowles said, "so I think it's just the chemistry of knowing where we're going to be and how to get me the ball and things like that. It worked."

Added Bird: "We're used to playing with each other, used to playing against international competition, we know what to expect of one another, so it's easier to kind of wing it. Because, in all honesty, we've only been together for three days. This is a brand-new thing and basketball is a team sport. It takes a lot of chemistry to look really good out there."

Taurasi, seeing her first game action since the end of the Phoenix Mercury's run in the 2017 playoffs last fall, got off to a quick start by knocking down an early 3-pointer and then scoring while drawing a foul. She finished with 14 points, making three of the United States' four 3-pointers, and the team was plus-41 in her 20 minutes of action.

"That does feel good," she said. "I haven't played basketball in a 5-on-5 setting like that since probably December. The last three months have been a lot of rehab, a lot of strengthening and trying to get in better shape, so today felt good. As a team, we looked good in stretches and that felt good for all us."

Defense was another strong point for the U.S. women, who held China to 12-of-51 shooting (23.5 percent) on 2-point attempts and forced 22 turnovers. China scored no more than 13 points in any quarter and had just eight against second-unit players in the fourth period.

With this camp in the books, players will now return to their WNBA teams, with training camps opening this weekend. After three camps held during the WNBA offseason, players won't rejoin USA Basketball until September for final preparations for the World Cup, played September 22-30 in Tenerife, Spain.

As Stewart told the crowd when she took the microphone pregame, this exhibition was the start of a journey. "This is the first step on our way to the World Cup and to Tokyo (for the 2020 Olympics)," she said.

By the time the United States faces China in group play in Spain, the roster will surely have a different look with stars like Tina Charles, Brittney Griner, Maya Moore and Nneka Ogwumike likely to make the World Cup roster. But one thing will be the same: Staley's desire to win.