The United States women have dominated 5×5 Olympic basketball as winners of the past six gold medals. The Americans are off to a great start in a debut sport, too: 3×3 basketball.
The U.S. women won both of their 3×3 games Saturday, including knocking off top-ranked France 17-10 with first lady Jill Biden in attendance. Then the Americans beat Mongolia 21-9.
“What an honor and what an opportunity to play in front of the first lady,” U.S. guard Kelsey Plum said. “As soon as we walked out, we saw her in the stands. She waved, and she brought all the energy, so we are grateful for that.
“I think there was a lot of buildup; it was kind of good to get the jitters out of the way. The tournament will just get better. You are in your first game on a worldwide stage, but once we started and the shots started falling, we were just able to be ourselves.”
Just a year ago, Plum was rehabbing an Achilles tendon injury that forced her to miss the 2020 WNBA season. She’s returned to the WNBA this season and had six points against both France and Mongolia on Saturday.
Her fellow Las Vegas Aces guard Jackie Young was a late addition to the four-member U.S. squad because the Seattle Storm’s Katie Lou Samuelson had to pull out of the Olympics after going into COVID-19 protocol just before making the trip to Tokyo.
It’s been a whirlwind for Young, who, like Plum, is a former WNBA No. 1 draft pick. Saturday marked Young’s first international 3×3 game since she competed in a 2019 tournament. She had one point against both France and Mongolia.
“I was definitely nervous at first; I haven’t played in a while,” Young said. “I did a few training camps. It’s definitely an adjustment. The physicality is a little bit different, so it’s just getting used to that. But I feel good after the first game.”
Chicago Sky center Stefanie Dolson had seven points against France and five against Mongolia. The other member of the team, Dallas Wings guard Allisha Gray, had three points against France and nine vs. Mongolia.
The 3×3 format is played on a half court with an arc and one basket, and a 12-second shot clock. Free throws and baskets inside the arc are worth one point, and baskets from behind the arc are worth two. The first team to reach 21, or whichever team is leading at the end of a 10-minute period, wins the game. If the score is tied, the first team to two points in overtime is the winner.
Two years ago, the U.S. women had concerns about making the Olympics in 3×3 because of the dearth of points the country had accumulated in FIBA-sponsored events. But with stronger participation and emphasis on those events from professional players, the United States improved its standing and went undefeated in its Olympic qualifying tournament in May to make it to Tokyo.
The United States has two more games Sunday: against Romania at 4:30 a.m. ET and against the Russian Olympic Committee at 8:25 a.m.