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UConn WBB Weekly: The biggest UConn storylines at the Tokyo Olympics

From Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi looking for their fifth gold medal to the importance of these games for Aaliyah Edwards, these are four things to keep an eye on over the next couple weeks.

2021 USA Basketball Training Camp: All-Access Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

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The biggest UConn WBB storylines at the Tokyo Olympics

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are set to get underway this week and — like most years — there are plenty of ties to UConn women’s basketball.

Nine current and former Huskies are competing: Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Napheesa Collier, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi (USA 5x5), Aaliyah Edwards and Kia Nurse (Canada 5x5), Gabby Williams (France 5x5), and Stef Dolson (USA 3x3). Katie Lou Samuelson was supposed to be on the 3x3 team with Dolson but will now miss out after contracting COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated.

With so many players involved, there will be plenty for UConn fans to watch out for during the next couple weeks.

Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi aim for gold medal No. 5

In 2004, both Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi made their Olympic debuts in Athens. Since then, they’ve gone 32-0 in the games and have taken home four gold medals. In fact, only one game has even been within single digits.

While the two are likely competing in their final Olympic games, they’ll look to go out by making history as the first team sport athletes ever to win five gold medals. Only six basketball players have even participated in five Olympic games and only one — Teresa Edwards (1984-2000) — did so for Team USA.

When the US roster came out, there were plenty of people around the sport who grumbled about Bird and Taurasi’s longevity and respective ages. Both players will have a chance to silence any and all doubts by playing major roles in another gold medal run with the red, white and blue.

Pressure’s on

Though the US will be heavy favorites for gold, they haven’t been invincible in their lead up to the Olympics.

First, they lost to the WNBA All-Stars 93-85 in their first exhibition game as a team. Soon after, Australia earned a 70-67 win over the Americans before they recovered with a 93-62 win over Nigeria in their final game before heading to Tokyo.

While the losses could be written off as learning experiences for a team still trying to find its chemistry, Team USA isn’t used to losing, ever. The US certainly understand the high expectations they face and even embrace it. They have their own internal pressure to win gold and with Bird and Taurasi in their (likely) last go-around, those two won’t want their Olympic careers to end on a sour note.

But there’s also the controversy over the exclusion of Nneka Ogwumike and questions about USA Basketball’s selection method. If the US wins a seventh straight gold medal, none of that will matter. But if they fall short, the outcries over a supposed UConn bias will only grow louder over the next four years.

Veteran and rookie

A lot has changed for Kia Nurse since the Rio Olympics in 2016. Then, she was going into her junior year at UConn and was one of the youngest players on Canada’s roster. This time around, Nurse is a veteran leader and one of the most important players on a team with hopes of winning a medal.

Meanwhile, Edwards is in a similar position to that of Nurse five years ago. She’s coming off a strong freshman year with the Huskies and gained some valuable international experience at the AmeriCup in June. Though Edwards probably won’t get too many minutes in Tokyo, Geno Auriemma believes this will be a valuable experience for her.

“It changes players, the Olympic experience,” he said. “It allows you to see all your faults. It allows you to find out that, yeah, you are pretty good. ‘I can do certain things. No, I’m not as good as I thought I was.’ So it really puts everything in perspective...It really paints a really good picture for you. And she’s such a hard worker anyway. I think this is a great, great, great thing for Aaliyah.”

“I think for Aaliyah, this is a huge, huge step in her development,” he added later.

As for advice for his current and former player, Auriemma didn’t have much to offer the Canadians.

“It’s hard to give Aaliyah and Kia Nurse a lot of advice other than pray the US loses before you have to play them,” he said.

Trailblazers

For the first time ever, 3x3 basketball is an Olympic event. Unlike 5x5 basketball, there’s not much history in the competition for there to be a definitive favorite.

Stef Dolson will have a chance to make history with Team USA alongside Alisha Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young as the first ever 3x3 gold medalists. Considering the talent pool available, the US should be a dominant force like they are in 5x5 — but it’s hardly ever that simple and 3x3 is a drastically different game.

It’s only played on a half court with a 12 second shot clock. Shots inside the arc are one point and beyond it are two. The winner is whoever reaches 21 first or whoever leads after 10 minutes — whichever comes first. If the US suffers an early setback, they won’t have much time to regroup considering they play twice a day roughly 3-4 hours apart.

So if the US wants to set the standard as the best 3x3 team in the world — the way they are in 5x5 — it all starts with Dolson and her teammates in Tokyo.


Best of social media

How Sue Bird found out she’d been named the US flag bearer:

Evina Westbrook is making some history this summer:

Sue Bird -> Napheesa Collier -> Breanna Stewart -> Napheesa Collier

Breanna Stewart’s ready for the games to begin:

UConn is building a plaza to honor its Olympic athletes, which will feature more than a few former women’s basketball stars:

Katie Lou Samuelson’s statement after missing out on the Olympics due to COVID-19: