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A’ja Wilson powers dominant effort in U.S. women’s final tuneup

The feeling finally hit A’ja Wilson on Saturday night.

She’s really going to Tokyo.

She’s really an Olympian.

“My friends were like, ‘When do you leave?’ And I’m like, ‘Girl, in July,’ Now, it’s like tomorrow,” said the Aces star and the U.S. national team’s starting power forward. “I’m super excited and blessed. … Just there to get gold.”

The Americans concluded their exhibition slate Sunday with a 93-62 victory over Nigeria at Michelob Ultra Arena. They had lost their first two games to Team WNBA and Australia, their first two-game losing streak since 2011.

Wilson helped ensure they wouldn’t drop a third, posting team highs of 16 points and 10 rebounds to power a dominant effort. Aces teammate Chelsea Gray added seven points and six assists as Team USA’s backup point guard.

The national team now will depart for Tokyo, where it will seek its seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal.

“We’re a lot more connected. There weren’t any plays out there,” coach Dawn Staley said. “They were just playing. Reading and reacting. Moving the basketball.”

Team USA opened training camp last week and spent the past several days working out kinks and trying to develop chemistry. There were offensive and defensive lapses during the losses to the WNBA All-Stars and Australia, prompting concern before the exhibition finale against Nigeria.

But those concerns were quelled. Most of them, anyway.

The Americans made a point to play through the post, relying on Wilson and fellow post players Brittney Griner, Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles to generate quality opportunities. High-low sets ensured layups or open perimeter shots when Nigeria opted to send help.

Pick-and-roll actions were equally effective in forcing Nigeria to scramble, and Team USA recorded 32 assists on 35 field goals.

That same foursome anchored a disruptive defense that deterred drives to the rim, allowing for a 45-24 rebounding edge and additional easy scores in transition.

“When you look at the stat sheet, when you look at the roster — we’re a big team,” Wilson said. “I think that’s going to be our identity going into Tokyo.”

For as efficient as they were, the Americans still committed 20 turnovers and struggled at times against Nigeria’s ball pressure. But Staley thinks they can rectify that issue as they build more chemistry.

The U.S. begins pool play July 27 against Nigeria.

“We have to stay connected and move to playing our best basketball,” Staley said. “Not even tomorrow or the next day. When we start pool play.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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