The USA Basketball women’s national team plays the Belgian Cats tomorrow. Here’s more.
When: Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024 at approximately 2 p.m. ET. That is 8 p.m. Central European Time.
Where: Sportpaleis Antwerpen in Antwerp, Belgium
How to watch: In the USA, the game will be streamed on Courtside 1891, FIBA’s service. You need a subscription.
What to watch for
This is a game of very different expectations between the two sides.
For Team USA, this game is happening right in the middle of the European professional basketball season break. This allows time for friendlies and other international competitions like EuroBasket qualifiers. In this case, it’s the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Sure, the Americans already qualified by winning the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup, but they don’t want to be rusty either. I’m happy that the final roster looks very close to the 12-player roster we will see in Paris when the Olympics begin.
Some of you may wonder if Team USA thinks this will be a cakewalk simply because they already qualified. I don’t think this will be an issue. Team USA assistant coach and Washington Mystics General Manager Mike Thibault said in pre-game interviews that the Americans would take this tournament seriously and that they need the experience as much as any team.
Mystics guard Ariel Atkins will also be playing for Team USA. She will have a good chance to show her defensive prowess against some of the Cats’ top guards like Julie Allemand and Julie Vanloo, the latter of whom is now on the Mystics’ training camp roster.
If the Americans take a business-like approach to the tournament, the Belgians won’t, at least for this game. The Cats, who are the reigning Women’s EuroBasket champions, will host this game in front of a sold-out crowd of over 14,000 people at the Sportpaleis Antwerpen, the largest indoor arena in Belgium. Needless to say, tomorrow, this crowd will be the largest ever for a women’s sporting event in Belgian history.
We’re sold out on Thursday— Belgian Cats (@TheBelgianCats) December 31, 2023
Friendly reminder we still have tickets left on Friday & Sunday ️ get them via https://t.co/Dhsjh71x4Y#basketballbelgium #crelansport #omdathetkan pic.twitter.com/wQjRuNl19X
Just think about it for a second. Basketball crowds can only carry 20,000 people at most in an NBA game. And though Belgium is well known for some female sports stars like retired tennis players Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters, they aren’t particularly known for women’s team sports besides field hockey.
But in women’s basketball, Belgium isn’t just better than the Netherlands, its closest neighbor to the north, or France, its much bigger southern neighbor. The Cats are the best team in Europe right now and they’re hosting the defending Olympic and World Cup Champions!
On that note, let’s say that Belgian Cats and former Mystics forward Emma Meesseman is looking at this game as writing history and how honored she is to be part of that. Meesseman says everything here in Dutch, but there are English subtitles.
I could go on about where Meesseman is professionally (she’s at Fenerbahce in the Turkish KBSL), is the best player in EuroLeague Women by a mile AND say that she’d be a WNBA MVP here if she put her mind into it like during the 2019 WNBA Finals.. But I know you guys don’t care about that anymore, so I’ll leave it there regarding how good she is vs. the players on Team USA.
Though Meesseman is playing tomorrow, some of her key sidekicks, especially in the post, won’t be there. Kyara Linskens, who has been Belgium’s starting center in their last few competitions, is out for the tournament due to an ankle injury, according to Sporza (link in Dutch).
Team USA should be beating the Cats comfortably by the second half of this contest.
This game will be emotional for the Cats, but the Americans know Meesseman well, not just from her Mystics days, but also because many play internationally, including Turkey right now. And during Team USA’s last two head-to-head matches against Belgium, Meesseman was largely a non-factor. This team will make her play like … “Passive Emma” back in her early Mystics days, to the home crowd's disappointment.
Linskens’ absence exacerbates the reason why I don’t think Meesseman is going to put up the near triple double numbers like she does for her professional team. Finally, I don’t think Belgium’s guards have the size to match up against Team USA either, even if Allemand has multiple years of experience from the Indiana Fever (2020) or Chicago Sky (2022).
In the past, I’ve given the Belgian Cats a lot of credit, maybe too much credit given hindsight before matchups against Team USA. But the Americans are bringing a legitimate A team to Antwerp and the Cats are down one of their key post players. That’s a recipe for a nasty blowout.
Barring a sudden hot shooting night by Vanloo, Allemand and perhaps more players including Meesseman, I just don’t see this game being very close.