With under 10 seconds left in the first quarter, former Duke shooting guard Alana Beard came off a screen, found an opening on the right side and drained a deep two-pointer to give the U.S. Senior Women's National Team its first lead of the night--and her third ovation.
The Americans never trailed Australia after that shot, winning the game, 56-49. And the 3,297 fans who filled Cameron Indoor Stadium, including nearly 700 Crazies, made sure Beard knew how much they appreciated her, giving her a standing ovation once during the starting line-up announcement and again as she waved to them walking off the court.
"It was a great feeling being back," Beard said. "I think I started getting hyped when the band started playing. We were out there warming up, and I started reminiscing--about being out here, starting the game. So that was very exciting for me."
Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors, an assistant for the U.S. team, was moved by the crowd's reception of the 2004 national Player of the Year.
"When they introduced Alana and when she went into the game for the first time and the crowd cheered, it just gave me goosebumps," Goestenkors said. "It just made me feel really good that they still feel so warmly about her and really appreciate her and welcomed her back the way they did-it made me proud."
Yet, Beard's return to her alma mater only two years after graduation was only one part of the greater story surrounding this U.S. team-it's youth.
The American roster includes four players who graduated college within the past three years--Beard, Diana Taurasi, Seimone Augustus and Cappie Pondexter--and one player still in college, Tennessee's Candace Parker.
"We will be challenged. There's no question about that," U.S. head coach Anne Donovan said of her team's inexperience. "But USA basketball has done a great job of incorporating the young talent. The older girls are ready to pass the torch. They see that there's so much talent--they're confident in that--in playing with them and then moving on.... These players are ready to step into the spotlight."
Without seasoned veterans like Lisa Leslie and Yolanda Griffith, however, question marks about the strength of the American frontcourt loom over the team as it moves toward this month's World Championships.
Parker went 0-for-6 in 15 minutes of play, and veteran Tina Thompson had to take 15 shots to get as many points in 22 minutes.
In addition, the U.S. team turned the ball over 15 times.
Despite its offensive struggles, Donovan said her team played very strong defense.
The American squad held Aussie star forward Lauren Jackson to only seven points.
Jackson barely practiced with the Australian team because of conflicts with the WNBA schedule. The WNBA all-star said she felt like she was "running around with her head cut off" trying to figure out plays she has yet to fully learn.
Despite praising her team's overall defensive performance, Donovan said Team USA's ball-screen defense was one of its most significant weaknesses.
Defensive lapses translated into 26 points--over half of the Aussie point total for the game--for Australia's three starting forwards as the group cut through the paint.
Australia's constant three-point threat also plagued the Americans, as the Aussies hit two threes toward the end of the fourth, cutting the U.S. 14-point lead to six with less than three minutes of the game remaining.
Donovan said she was unhappy that her team was unable to close out the Australians late in the game, but she said she is not concerned.
"This was a great test for us. Australia is one of the best teams we're going to see," she said. "But I think overall we passed a good test tonight, and we're going to get better by the time we see them again."
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.