TOKYO — In a quintessential Olympic moment, Diana Taurasi was speaking Argentinian-accented Spanish while wearing a Team USA jersey after defeating Nigeria in Japan.
As she likes to say, she's part Italian, so she was also talking with her hands.
Then someone asked her about the USA winning their 50th straight Olympics game, and she stopped listening with her hands. She stuck her fingers into her ears and turned away, trying to avoid the kind of jinx that hasn't affected Team USA for years.
Taurasi had provided a quintessential Taurasi moment in America's 81-72 victory over Nigeria at the Saitama Super Arena on Tuesday afternoon in Japan. Nigeria had taken an 8-1 lead in the first quarter, with the U.S. having more fouls than points, before Team USA finally tied it at 25 in the second. Taurasi got smacked in the face playing defense, threw her hands up looking for a foul call, didn't get it, sprinted downcourt, caught a pass from best friend Sue Bird and drained a three-pointer.
The U.S. would build a 20-point lead but Nigeria, energetic throughout, went on a late run to become the first team to stay within double digits of the U.S. women's team in the Olympics since the 2004 semifinals.
This game contained multitudes:
US point guard Sue Bird said after the game that this will be her last Olympics. At 40, that may not be a shock, but she had 13 assists and two turnovers, and the rest of the team had 12 assists and 23 turnovers. Bird recorded her 100th Olympic assist in the game and her 13 assists represented her Olympic best.
"She has played basketball like any other point guard in the world,'' U.S. coach Dawn Staley said.
Nigeria is improving rapidly. Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike and Elizabeth Williams petitioned to play for Nigeria in these Olympics but were turned down by FIBA. Had the Ogwumikes played, the U.S. may not have survived their sloppy play.
Sylvia Fowles played 11 minutes, producing nine points and five rebounds. Fellow Lynx star Napheesa Collier played two minutes and didn't score.
Besides Lynx head coach and U.S. assistant Cheryl Reeve, there was another Lynx connection in the arena. The Lynx traded for Erica Ogwumike, the younger sister of Nneka and Chiney, on draft night. She was always a long shot to make the roster but Reeve wanted to see her in camp. Ogwumike never had much chance of making the roster and was cut. She played four minutes Tuesday and did not score.
Nigeria coach Otis Hughley, Jr., sounded thrilled about his team's ability to compete with the U.S. and even about being at a post-game press conference. He took the sign bearing his name when he left.
He noted that his country doesn't have under-16 or under-19 programs like most basketball powers, and offered a soliloquy on the importance of women's basketball in his country, if not every country.
This is his team's second Olympic appearance and they made the U.S. sweat.
"We have no fear,'' he said. "What we're building, you see some of the fruits of it today. It's come a long way in a short time. ... Against the best in the world, we're down 20 and cut it to eight with a chance to go even lower.
"It's like starting a boxing career and they tell you you're going to fight Muhammad Ali in his prime. You say, 'I don't want to box that bad.' It's like, your arms are too short to box with God.''
He laughed but later turned serious. "There's not a lot of advocacy for women,'' he said. "And it breaks your heart because the potential is unbelievable. There is a little girl in a township in an African city who has almost nothing and will get one view of these girls and be inspired to overcome anything, and that woman might be the next Michelle Obama. ... You can just see this come and go like a shooting star and that is tragic.''