SAITAMA, Japan — A'ja Wilson had 19 points and 13 rebounds in her Olympic debut to help the U.S. beat Nigeria 81-72 on Tuesday in the opener for both teams. The win was the Americans' 50th consecutive victory in the Olympics dating back to a loss in the semifinals of the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Diana Taurasi, who was playing in her first game in nearly a month after suffering a hip injury, has competed in the last 33 of those victories to set a record for most games in the Olympics. She showed no ill-effects from the injury that sidelined her for the team's three exhibition games in Las Vegas two weeks ago. While she sat out, the U.S. suffered two rare losses; one to a WNBA All-Star team and the other Australia. Taurasi finished with 10 points, all coming in the first half.
She injured her hip during practice with the Phoenix Mercury in early July.
With a roster full of former U.S. college players, Nigeria wasn't intimidated by the Americans. The African country jumped out to an 8-1 lead as the U.S. missed its first four shots and committed four turnovers. The Nigerians were up 20-17 after one quarter and extended the lead to 25-20 before the U.S. took over.
The Americans scored 23 straight points, the first four by Wilson — one of six newcomers on the U.S. roster. Breanna Stewart scored seven points during the game-changing burst. The U.S. led 44-32 at the half as Nigeria regrouped to score seven of the final eight points of the second quarter.
The U.S. extended the lead to 70-50 at the end of the third quarter on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Jewell Loyd. The Americans led 75-55 before Nigeria scored 12 straight points to cut it to eight with 3:19 left.
That's as close as they would get, although they became the first team to get within single digits of the U.S. since Russia lost in the semifinals of the 2004 Athens Games by four.
Ezinne Kalu scored 16 to lead Nigeria.
The U.S. also holds the second longest Olympic win streak with 15 consecutive victories. ... Turnovers plagued the Americans, who committed 12 in the first half and 25 for the game. ... ... Joining Wilson as first-time Olympians were Loyd, Skylar Diggins, Ariel Atkins, Chelsea Gray and Napheesa Collier.
The Nigerians had 17 more field goal attempts than the U.S. but made six less shots.
LOOKING FOR A WIN:
Nigeria was attempting to become the first African nation to win an Olympic contest in women's basketball since 2004 when the team went 1-5 in Greece. No team from the continent has won a game since. There are hopes for that to potentially change: Nigeria went 3-4 at the World Champions in 2018, falling to the U.S. in the quarterfinals.
U.S.: Faces Japan on Friday.
Nigeria: Faces France on Friday.