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United States vs. Belgium final score: Atkins and Austin make World Cup debuts in 87-72 win for Team USA

The Americans started off on the right note.

Big win for Team USA.
Photo by BRENDON THORNE/AFP via Getty Images

The USA Basketball women’s national team started off their journey in the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup on the right note with an 87-72 win over Belgium on Thursday morning in Sydney, Australia.

Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins got the start and scored 7 -points on 3-of-7 shooting while center Shakira Austin scored 4 points off the bench in 11 minutes. Breanna Stewart led Team USA with 22 points. The highlights can be seen below.

Belgium came into this tournament with a chance to be the second-best team in the standings on paper. Given that the Cats came to Sydney at full strength, they had a legitimate chance to beat the Americans. Chicago Sky forward Emma Meesseman usually has another 10 gears in her when playing in a Cats uniform and this team is why Julie Allemand was traded from the Indiana Fever to the Sky as well.

That said, the Americans, who have Mystics head coach Mike Thibault AND former Mystics player (and now Duke women’s basketball head coach) Kara Lawson as assistants, know Meesseman all too well. That’s because she played here in D.C. from 2013-20 and is a multi-time All-Star. The Americans focused on making her a non-factor in the game despite missing Las Vegas Aces stars A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray who are still en route to Australia after winning the 2022 WNBA Finals.

And that strategy worked. Meesseman was MIA today, scoring only 4 points on 2-of-6 shooting. And she had no aggressiveness with the ball either, attempting NO free throws. In fact, the Belgian Cats don’t seem to look to get foul shots that aggressively as a whole. I’ve noticed that over the last several years. only attempting 10 while the Americans attempted 23. They didn’t shoot poorly and made more threes than the Americans. But the Cats committed 25 turnovers while the Americans committed 19.

If Belgium were a bit more gutsy about going for foul shots and taking more shots at the basket (they only scored 22 points at the paint vs. 42 for Team USA), didn’t turn the ball over quite as much and if Meesseman looked more like “Belgian Cat Emma” in Women’s EuroBasket and not like ... “Passive Emma” when she was a young prospect on the Mystics at times, this game could have been a win for Belgium. It really could have.

For the Cats, this was a blown opportunity, since they have trouble beating some other opponents in their group like Bosnia and China. And the Americans were shorthanded by three players.

On the flip side, this was a great game for Team USA considering the shortcomings. The turnovers were a problem, but again, they made Meesseman a non-factor and no one else was able to fill the void for the Cats. When Allemand and Julie Vanloo are the only double-digit scorers for the team and when Kyara Linskens is the leading rebounder and shot taker from the low post, I’ll take it. 100 percent.

Team USA is back at it tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET vs. Puerto Rico on ESPN Plus. I’ll try to get a preview up later this afternoon.