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Olympics preview: U.S. women’s basketball the heavy favorites in Rio

The U.S. women’s basketball team will bring arguably their best squad yet to Rio, making them overwhelming favorites for a sixth-straight Olympic gold medal.

There’s no debating that the U.S. women’s basketball team—currently riding a 41-game Olympic winning streak that dates back to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics bronze-medal game and includes five gold medals—will be the overwhelming favorites in Rio. Team USA boasts a 58–3 record all-time in Olympic competition, and the squad they’re sending to Brazil is arguably the best women’s basketball team in history. Australia has typically been the U.S.’s biggest competition in the Olympics, but they’re much less formidable without star Lauren Jackson, who retired due to knee injuries. It would be a historic upset if the U.S. team returned stateside with anything but a sixth straight gold. 

The current roster has no weaknesses, featuring prodigious scorers (Elena Delle Donne, Angel McCoughtry, Diana Taurasi) and the game’s best mid-range player (Maya Moore) to dominant posts (Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles, Brittney Griner), steady point guard play (Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen), the WNBA’s best-ever defender (Tamika Catchings) and a do-everything wing player (Seimone Augustus). The team is so deep that Breanna Stewart—the WNBA’s  No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016—will come off the bench.

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UConn coach Geno Auriemma heads up the women’s national team, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the team has a bit of a UConn feel. Five of the players are UConn alums (Bird, Charles, Moore, Stewart Taurasi) and four are current members of the Minnesota Lynx (Augustus, Fowles, Moore, Whalen). The team’s collective trademark is winning, and Auriemma’s 23–0 record with Team USA, including gold medals in the 2012 Olympics and ’14 world championships, only continues to back that up.

One bit of controversy worthy of discussion: The USA Basketball committee opted not to select Candace Parker, a two-time Olympian and two-time WNBA MVP who is currently leading the L.A. Sparks to a record-setting season in the WNBA. Parker is deserving to be here but her absent won’t make a difference. Pencil in the gold today.


Athletes to watch

Maya Moore, USA

Arguably the world’s best player at the moment, the 27-year-old Moore has won three WNBA championships (2011, ’13 and ’15) with the Lynx and one WNBA Most Valuable Player Award (’14), and she’s been selected to four WNBA All-Star teams. Moore can score from anywhere on the floor and has an innate ability to hit big shots, particularly run-stopping jumpers.

Elena Delle Donne, USA

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Maybe the game’s most natural shooter, Delle Donne’s long-range marksmanship will open up space inside for the U.S. posts. She’s nearly impossible to guard one-on-one given her 6' 5" height.

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Elizabeth Cambage, Australia

At 6' 8", the U.S. must have to contend with her size (as the rest of the world must do with the 6' 8" Griner). Cambage, who averaged 13.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in London, opted not to play in the WNBA; instead, she’s been dominating in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Sancho Lyttle, Spain

The 6' 4" forward is a former WNBA All-Star who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream. Lyttle was excellent at the World Championships in 2014, leading her team to the finals against the U.S.

Matchups to watch

U.S. vs. Australia

The Opals, the world’s second-ranked team, have historically been the toughest opponent for the U.S. and have WNBA-quality talent in centers Cambage and Marianna Tolo, and guards Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips. But there is no Lauren Jackson, who led in Australia to three Olympic silver medals and one bronze. She retired earlier this year because of knee injuries.

U.S. vs. Spain

The world’s third-ranked team reached the finals of the 2014 World Championships – a 77-64 loss to the United States – and have excellent size and scoring with Lyttle, Laura Nicholls and Anna Cruz. There’s a lot of international experience on this roster.

Gold-medal dates

Saturday, Aug. 20 at 2:30 p.m. ET.