TOKYO — For the first time in a long time, the U.S. women’s basketball team came to the Olympics dogged by some doubts.
Not about whether it would fall short of a gold medal, which is still in the realm of believe-it-when-you-see-it. But the stress level it might take to get there has been an open discussion for Team USA, which has six first-time Olympians, relies heavily on a 40-year-old and a 39-year-old in its starting lineup and didn’t exactly look primed for a historically dominant run during its training camp in Las Vegas.
Based on Tuesday’s 81-72 win over Nigeria in its Olympic opener, those questions are still valid.
“You feel the pressure. No doubt about it,” said Team USA coach Dawn Staley, describing a basketball world that is incrementally making life more difficult at these events. “We can’t take any team lightly, nor do we.”
To underscore the extent to which the Americans have been peerless in international women’s basketball, Tuesday was this program’s 50th consecutive Olympic victory and yet just the second in which the margin was fewer than 10 points. So when the result is anything less than an unfettered show of force, it raises eyebrows – even if the bar for this particular team should be significantly lower.
In the lead-up to the Olympics, U.S. players and coaches said time and again that this one would be more of a journey, that the newness of the team meant that it should be judged on whether it’s taking the proper steps toward a…