Benningfield, USA debut Sat. in Pan Am games

Vanderbilt senior forward Jenni Benningfield makes her official international basketball debut Saturday morning when the women's basketball competition of the 2003 Pan American Games tips off at 9 a.m. ET in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Vanderbilt senior forward Jenni Benningfield will make her official international basketball debut Saturday morning when the women's basketball competition of the 2003 Pan American Games tips off at 9 a.m. ET in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Team USA's first opponent will be be a familiar one. Last week, the US team visited Cuba for three exhibition games against the Cuban senior national team, and that same team is representing Cuba in the Santo Domingo.

For the US, the games in Cuba were a learning experience. During the Pan Am team's first weekend of training in Boston, the team played exhibition games against the junior national teams from Australia and Brazil, finishing with a loss to Australia and a win over Brazil.

But in Cuba, the opponent was the Cuban senior national team, which happens to be the defending Pan Amercian Games champion, a team who had recently swept through the 2003 Central American basketball championships with an average score of 100-50.

For the younger, less-experienced college players from the US, half of whom had no previous international experience, the games in Cuba were an eye-opener. "It was a little bit different that Brazil or Australia," said Benningfield after the US team returned to the US for training in Tampa last weekend. "They were very physical, very strong, very huge."

And the refs, in true international style, let them play. "You could basically push and shove and grab and hold people," said Benningfield. "I remember one time I was running down the floor, and this girl had me completely by the waist and I couldn't move. It was like football basically."

The difficulties the US faced in Cuba were compounded in the second game when Benningfield, who had been one of the leading scorers in Boston, had to leave the game as a precaution following a mild concussion.

"In the first game I took three charges," said Benningfield. "They actually called them, and I was like, okay, that seems to work.

"But in the second game, I went to take a charge, and this girl hit me real hard, and my neck whipped back, and I hit my head on the floor," she said.

"I didn't get the call, which is kind of a bummer. I came out, and it was a mild concussion. It wasn't severe. But they did the little tests like remembering numbers, and that was fine. A lot of precautions. I was fine by the next game."

The US team's offense in the second game suffered as a result, with the team scoring only 45 points the game. In the third and final game, Benningfield returned to lead the team in scoring with 14 points, hitting both of the 3-pointers that she attempted,

Even though the Cuban trip resulted in an 0-3 record for Team USA, Benningfield saw a silver lining. "Obviously no one likes to lose," she said in Tampa, "but it's almost a good thing that we did because we know what to expect going in.

"We really had to realize the different style of play, and just kind of accept the way they play and change to the way they play. There's nothing you can do about it; you can just go out there and play."

Grand old dame. While the Olympics didn't include women's basketball until 1976, USA women's basketball teams have been competing in the Pan American Games since 1955. In the 1950s and 1960s, teams from the USA had to shift from the halfcourt six-on-six game which was played in the United States to the fullcourt five-on-five game played in international basketball. In comparison, the adjustments that today's USA players have to make to the international 3-point line, the trapezoidal lane, and differences in the game and shot clock are minor by comparison.

Thanks, WNBA. The twelve collegiate players who will represent the USA against other countries' senior national teams can thank the WNBA for the opportunity. While Canada's Stacy Dales-Schumann and Tammy Sutton-Brown and Brazil's Janeth Arcain will miss the Pan-American games because of the WNBA's summer schedule, every member of the USA senior national team is currently playing in the WNBA, thus opening the door to international basketball for the twelve members of the USA squad.

How they got here. The women's basketball field at the Pan American game consists of six teams: The USA, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil and Argentina. The two North American teams, USA and Canada, have permanent spots in the Games. Cuba qualified by sweeping the Caribbean and Central American countries in the Central American championship. Brazil and Argentina qualifying by finishing first and second, respectively, in the South American championship. The Dominican Republic was awarded the final slot as the host country.

Pan-American Games Women's Basketball Schedule
Friday, August 1
Opening Ceremonies

Preliminary Round

Saturday, August 2
9:00 a.m.    Cuba vs. USA
11:00 a.m.   Canada vs. Brazil
1:00 p.m.    Dominican Republic vs. Argentina

Sunday, August 3
9:00 a.m.    Argentina vs. Brazil
11:00 a.m.   USA vs. Canada
1:00 p.m.    Dominican Republic vs. Cuba

Monday, August 4
9:00 a.m.    Cuba vs. Argentina
11:00 a.m.   Brazil vs. USA
1:00 p.m.    Canada vs. Dominican Republic

Tuesday, August 5
1:00 p.m.    USA vs. Argentina
3:00 p.m.    Cuba vs. Canada
5:00 p.m.    Domincan Republic vs. Brazil

Wednesday, August 6
1:00 p.m.    Cuba vs. Brazil
3:00 p.m.    Argentina vs. Cana
5:00 p.m.    USA vs. Dominican Republic

Friday, August 8
5:00 p.m.    Medal Semifinal- 2 vs 3
7:00 p.m.    Medal Semifinal- 1 vs 4

Saturday, August 9
Time TBD     5th-6th Place: 5 v 6
3:00 p.m.    Bronze Medal Game: Semifinal Losers
5:00 p.m.    Gold Medal Game: Semifinal Winners

NOTE: All times local. The Dominican Republic in the same time zone as EDT.

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