Bellator 263: AJ McKee submits Pitbull to win $1 million title fight

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, kicks Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, punches Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, knees Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, punches Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, kicks Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, has his arm raised after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, is choked-out by AJ McKee blue gloves, in the first round during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • AJ McKee blue gloves, celebrates after defeating Patricio “Pitbull”Freire, red gloves, during Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee at the Forum in Inglewood, CA., Saturday, July 31, 2021. McKee defeated Freire to win the 145-pound World Grand Prix tournament million dollar prize and the championship belt. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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INGLEWOOD — A.J. McKee’s call-out finally came home.

The undefeated Long Beach star’s crusade, which started with his professional MMA and Bellator debut in 2016 when he dared to invoke the name of featherweight champion Patricio Pitbull, has been more than six years in the making.

On Saturday night at The Forum, McKee won the $1 million Bellator World Featherweight Grand Prix with a technical submission via standing guillotine choke of Pitbull in the first round to claim the belt and establish his superstar status in the sport.

After the pair largely squared off with little action to start the fight, McKee stunned the champion with a left head kick and dropped him with punches against the cage.

The 26-year-old phenom began to prematurely celebrate before Pitbull began to rise. McKee then pounced and locked in a standing guillotine choke, torqueing with all his might before Pitbull began to fade. Referee Mike Beltran jumped in at 1:57 to kick off a wild celebration in front of the partisan crowd.

Pitbull (32-5) hadn’t lost in five years, winning all seven title fights before Saturday – twice dethroning a champion and five times successfully defending his featherweight title.

McKee (18-0) kicked off his professional MMA career more than six years ago, having just turned 20 and collecting a victory via submission at Bren Events Center in Irvine and calling out Pitbull, who was seven months into his first featherweight title reign.

Pitbull and McKee both started their journeys in the grand prix at Bellator 228 in September 2019 at The Forum — Pitbull dominating top contender Juan Archuleta in a unanimous decision after McKee recorded a highlight-reel 8-second knockout of Georgi Karakhanyan

Three months later against Derek Campos, McKee grinded out a third-round submission win despite tearing his lateral collateral ligament in his left knee at Bellator 236 in December 2019. And in November, he advanced to the final by forcing a tapout via a neck crank/guillotine choke of former Bellator bantamweight champion and NCAA wrestling champion Darrion Caldwell at Bellator 253 in November.

Pitbull, 34, had been regarded by some as the top 145-pounder in the world. The two-time Bellator featherweight champion also boasts the organization’s lightweight title after his first-round knockout of Michael Chandler at Bellator 221 in May 2019, joining Ryan Bader and Joe Warren as the only double champions in Bellator history.

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Dodgers’ extra-inning frustrations continue in Arizona

PHOENIX — Back on April 16 at Petco Park, the Dodgers scored five times in the 12th inning to beat the San Diego Padres.

If they had known then that it might be their only extra-inning win of the season, maybe they would have savored it a little more.

The Dodgers spotted the Arizona Diamondbacks a three-run headstart, ran them down in eight innings but lost in the 10th, 6-5, on Friday night.

The Dodgers have ventured into the dark alley of extra innings 12 times this season and came out at the other end with a victory just that one time back in the innocent days of April.

This loss kept them in lockstep with the rest of the NL West’s big three. The Giants and Padres also lost, maintaining status quo in the division – the Dodgers three games back, the Padres 5½.

Max Scherzer can’t get here soon enough – literally, they could use a starter Saturday.

The trade that will bring Scherzer to the Dodgers eventually – he is scheduled to join the team in Arizona on Saturday and make his Dodgers debut most likely on Wednesday – cost the Dodgers their Saturday starter, Josiah Gray.

Some bullpen games are planned. Others are thrust upon you.

Starter Tony Gonsolin faced just 11 batters on Friday and walked five of them, putting the Dodgers in an early hole and setting off a conga line of relievers.

Scherzer’s arrival and Clayton Kershaw’s imminent return from the injured list have made Gonsolin’s days in the starting rotation numbered. It’s a spot he has never really had much of a grip on.

Gonsolin spent the first two months of the season nursing a shoulder injury. In 10 games (nine starts), he has only occasionally looked over it.

Gonsolin completed five innings just twice in those 10 games. His fastball velocity has been consistently low – he averaged 93.3 mph on Friday, down from 95.1 mph last season. And his command has been erratic. Friday was the fifth time he walked three or more batters in a game. In total, he has walked 26 batters in 35-2/3 innings this season.

The only damage the Diamondbacks could manage before Manager Dave Roberts got Gonsolin out of the game was a two-run double by Josh Van Meter. They added a single run in the fourth against Phil Bickford and two more against Brusdar Graterol and Alex Vesia in the sixth.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers had just three baserunners in the first five innings against Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen – a walk, an error and a single. From the sixth through the 10th, though, they put 13 runners on base, chipping away with two runs each in the sixth and seventh innings. Chris Taylor drove in three of the four runs – one on a home run, two on a triple.

A pinch-hit RBI single by Albert Pujols in the eighth tied the score – and Kenley Jansen nearly untied it in the bottom of the eighth. Jansen loaded the bases before striking out Christian Walker and Carson Kelly.

But the Diamondbacks pushed across the winning run in the 10th against Jimmy Nelson, a double by Asdrubal Cabrera driving in the extra runner from second.

More to come on this story.

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U.S. edges Qatar on late goal to reach Gold Cup final against Mexico

AUSTIN, Texas — Gyasi Zardes scored in the 86th minute and the United States beat Qatar, 1-0, on Thursday night to reach the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Zardes, one of the few first-line U.S. players on a mostly junior varsity roster for this tournament, replaced Daryl Dike in the 63rd minute and combined with two other second-half subs, Nicholas Gioacchini and Eryk Williamson.

Gioacchini picked up a Qatari clearance attempt and fed Williamson, who returned the ball. Gioacchini passed to Zardes, and he scored with a right-footed shot from 7 yards, his 14th international goal and second of the tournament.

The 20th-ranked U.S. matched its record with 13 consecutive home wins and advanced to Sunday night’s final in Las Vegas against defending champion Mexico, which beat Canada, 2-1, in Houston.

CONCACAF filled out the field for the Gold Cup, the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean, with 2022 World Cup host Qatar as an invited guest.

Goalkeeper Matt Turner made three big first-half saves for the U.S.

Qatar had a chance to go ahead in the 61st minute but Hassan Al-Haydos sent a penalty kick over the crossbar following a foul by James Sands. Al-Haydos took a stutter step and tried to fool goalkeeper Matt Turner with a panenka, a soft shot down the middle.

Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Zack Steffem, Josh Sargent and other U.S. regulars missed the Gold Cup for vacation followed by preseasons with their European clubs.

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter started the same lineup in consecutive games for the first time since the 2019 Gold Cup semfinal and final.

The match was played at Q2 Stadium, which opened last month and will host the Americans’ World Cup qualifier against Jamaica on Oct. 7.

The U.S. beat Mexico in their last meeting in a dramatic finish to win the CONCACAF Nations League.

In the other semifinal …

Mexico 2, Canada 1: Orbelin Pineda scored on a penalty shot in first-half stoppage time, his fifth international goal and third of the tournament, and Tajon Buchanan tied the score in the 57th with his first goal. Héctor Herrera scored in the 10th minute of second-half stoppage time, his ninth international goal, for 10th-ranked Mexico.

VAR intervened to hand Mexico a chance from the penalty spot after a review confirmed a foul on Canada’s Donell Henry in the area and Pineda converted to put El Tri in front at the break.

Buchanan drew Canada level early in the second half with an excellent individual effort, picking up a long ball on the left edge of the area, beating his defender and firing past Mexico keeper Alfredo Talavera at the far post.

Mexico again benefitted from a video review, with Canada’s Mark-Anthony Kaye whistled for a foul on the edge of the box after a VAR check, but Maxime Crepeau saved Carlos Salcedo’s penalty shot to preserve the draw.

The match was stopped as the second half progressed because of an anti-gay chant from the Mexico fans, but play resumed shortly after.

Herrera pounced on a ball at the top of the area and fired home in stoppage time to hand Tata Martino’s team a berth in the title game after nearly 13 extra minutes that were at times very tense.

The Canadians were without striker Lucas Cavallini and defender Steven Vitoria due to yellow-card accumulation. They were also without forwards Cyle Larin and Ayo Akinola because of injuries.

Canada was in its first semifinal since 2007 and was seeking its first championship since 2000. The Canadians are the only country other than the U.S. and Mexico to win the tournament.

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Trinity League Football Podcast: Top offseason highlights, players on the rise, storylines to watch


The Trinity League Football Podcast is back to get you ready for the 2021 season, which begins with Mater Dei and St. John Bosco ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the nation by MaxPreps.

Listen to this week’s episode here, and subscribe in Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts to get every episode as they publish.

In this episode, Dan Albano and Trinity League insider Scott Barajas recap the offseason highlights in the Trinity League, discuss players on the rise and spotlight the top storylines for each team as they get ready to start the season.

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Santa Margarita graduate Katie McLaughlin helps U.S. relay strike Olympic silver

Katie McLaughlin and her teammates did their job, setting up Katie Ledecky for her anchor leg in the women’s 800-meter freestyle relay at the Toyko Olympics on Thursday, July 29.

The U.S. star responded right on cue, racing with the determination to deliver a silver medal and American record for the Santa Margarita High product in an epic final.

McLaughlin teamed with veteran Allison Schmitt, fellow Olympic rookie Paige Madden and Ledecky to bring Team USA to the wall in 7 minutes, 40.73 seconds, four-tenths of a second behind China’s world-record 7:40.33.

Ledecky rallied past heavily favored Australia, which touched in 7:41.29 for the bronze.

The final was so fast, the United States and Australia also raced well under the world record, a 7:41.50 by Australia in 2019.

.⁦@KatieMcLaugh1in⁩ isn’t wrong about 800 free relay ⁦@ocvarsity⁩ ⁦@OCVswimdivepic.twitter.com/g52Cv4rL5t

— Dan Albano (@ocvarsityguy) July 29, 2021

McLaughlin, 24, did her part, splitting a 1:55.38 in her third leg to keep the Stars and Stripes positioned third behind China and Australia.

Ledecky sizzled a 1:53.76 and nearly caught China.

Madden also delivered in the clutch, splitting a 1:55.25 that moved the U.S. team to third after it was fourth after a 1:56.34 leadoff leg by Schmitt.

Madden and McLaughlin also raced in the second and third spots for the United States in prelims, producing the two fastest times for the team.

For McLaughlin, the relay marked her Olympic debut and Tokyo finale. The former Mission Viejo Nadadores and Nellie Gail Gators club swimmer qualified for the Games in the 800 free relay, and delivered.

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Simone Biles will not defend Olympic all-around gymnastics title

TOKYO

Tokyo—Only minutes into the Olympic Games team final Tuesday, Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast of her generation or any other, lost her special awareness on a vault and stumbled on the landing.

Biles, the four-time Olympic and 19-time World champion, walked to where Team USA had gathered and informed her teammates and coaches she was withdrawing from the competition, citing mental health concerns, knocking these Olympic Games of their already shaky bearings.

Biles rocked the Tokyo Olympics again Wednesday afternoon with the announcement that she will not defend her all around time Thursday and a decision that raises the likelihood that the Games and NBC will lose their biggest star before the most troubled Olympics in 40 years even hit their halfway point.

“After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement. “We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many.”

The statement did not address whether will compete in the individual apparatus finals which start Monday. Jade Carey, Biles’ U.S. teammate, will replace her in the all around competition.

Jade Carey, who finished ninth in qualifying, will take Biles’ place in the all-around. Carey initially did not qualify because she was the third-ranking American behind Biles and Sunisa Lee. International Gymnastics Federation rules limit countries to two athletes per event in the finals.

Even before Biles’ most recent announcement the Games were still reeling from her initial withdrawal the night before.

“It’s not really about the scoring, it’s not really about the medals,” Biles said late Tuesday night “I understand some people will say something, but at the end of the day, we are who we are as people.

“I say put mental health first, because if you don’t, then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to. It’s OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself because it shows how strong of a competitor and a person that you really are, rather than just battle through it. … Hopefully I’ll get back there and compete a couple more events. We’ll see.”

The first sign of trouble came on Biles’ vault. She planned to do a Yurcenko 2 1/2, but only managed 1 1/2 rotations before stumbling on the landing. She received a 13.766 score, well before her usual marks in an event in which she is the Olympic champion and a two-time Worlds gold medalist.

“I did not choose to do a one-and-a-half,” Biles said laughing. “I tried to do a two-and-a-half, and that just was not clicking. It’s very uncharacteristic of me, and it just sucks that it happened here at the Olympic Games. With the year that it’s been, I’m really not surprised how it played out.

“So it definitely wasn’t my best work.”

Biles said she has increasingly felt pressure from being the face of these Olympic Games. She is also a survivor of sexual abuse by former U.S. Olympic and national team coach Larry Nassar has been a vocal and persistent critic of USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and FBI’s handling of the Nassar case.

“In the back gym, coming in today, it was like fighting all those demons, ‘I have to put my pride aside, I have to do it for the team,” Biles said. “At the end of the day, I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health, and not jeopardize my health and well-being. …

“I just don’t trust myself as much as I used to. I don’t know if it’s age. I’m a little bit more nervous when I do gymnastics. I feel like I’m also not having as much fun, and I know that this Olympic Games,” she continued starting to weep, “I wanted it to be for myself.

“I was still doing it for other people, so it hurts my heart that doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.”

More to come on this story.

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U.S. men’s basketball routs Iran in bounce-back performance

By BRIAN MAHONEY AP Basketball Writer

SAITAMA, Japan — The U.S. basketball team got back to winning – and winning easily.

Damian Lillard scored 21 points and the Americans rebounded from an opening loss with their first victory of these Olympics, overwhelming Iran, 120-66, on Wednesday (Tuesday night PT).

Devin Booker scored 16 points and Jayson Tatum had 14 for the Americans, who had their 25-game Olympic winning streak snapped with an 83-76 loss to France on Sunday.

The U.S. not only bounced back with a win but did it in a Dream Team-like performance against an overmatched opponent, racing out for transition dunks and stepping back to knock down 3-pointers.

The Americans made 19 3-pointers and 23 of their 37 shots (62%) inside the arc.

It was a loud statement that might quiet some of the criticisms the team has heard from the start of its summer, when it dropped its first two exhibition games in Las Vegas.

Those came against a different caliber opponent. The Americans had played some of the sport’s best, with games against Spain, Australia and Argentina – the Nos. 2-4 teams in the world rankings – before facing the seventh-ranked French in their Olympic opener.

But Iran presented none of the problems of those contenders, a team that only earned its spot in the field in Tokyo by being the highest-finishing Asian team at the 2019 Basketball World Cup. The Iranians are ranked 23rd, ahead of only host Japan – which qualified for the Games automatically as the host country – in this 12-team field.

Lillard struggled and then stumbled in his Olympic debut, going 3 for 10 from the field before a costly fall and foul with 17 seconds left.

But he came out aggressively and looking for his shot against Iran, a player known for his deep 3-pointers in the NBA having it easy while shooting behind the closer international line.

He had six of the Americans’ 13 3-pointers in the first half. All 11 U.S. players who played in the first half scored – late roster addition Keldon Johnson of the San Antonio Spurs didn’t play until the second half.

Former NBA center Hamed Haddadi scored 15 points for Iran (0-2).

The U.S. and Iran are longtime rival nations in the political arena but have little history in the basketball one. They had played only once before, a U.S. victory in the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Istanbul.

Players on both teams then – Kevin Durant was one of them – said it was just a regular game despite the history of tension between their nations and this game looked the same. Players exchanged cordial fist bumps and some pats on the arm before tip-off.

The Iranians wouldn’t be anywhere near the Americans much longer.

The U.S. led 28-12 after one quarter and pushed the margin to 30 points on its 10th 3-pointer in 17 attempts to begin the game, making it 47-17 when Zach LaVine made his second in a row.

The U.S. plays the Czech Republic on Saturday to close pool play, with a victory guaranteeing the Americans a spot in the single-elimination quarterfinals.

The Americans are probably through already no matter what thanks to what will be an enormous point differential as a result of this blowout.

The U.S. probably doesn’t care what type of team it came against. The Americans just needed to look good against somebody.

They came into the game just 2-3 this summer after splitting their exhibition games in Las Vegas before the loss to France. They had rarely looked sharp while navigating roster changes, a game cancelation for coronavirus safety concerns and the absence of Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Booker until the eve of their Olympic opener because those three had played in the NBA Finals.

Holiday, who was the best American player in the opener, and Booker moved into the starting lineup against Iran.

TIP-INS

Team USA: Durant is up to 331 points in his three Olympics. Carmelo Anthony set the U.S. record with 336 in his four appearances. … LaVine scored 13 points.

Iran: Iran fell to 2-10 in the Olympics. This is its third appearance in men’s basketball, having dropped all five games in Beijing in 2008 and both here. It also competed in 1948.

UP NEXT

Team USA plays the Czech Republic on Saturday.

Iran meets France on Saturday.

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Olympic champ Biles out of team finals

By WILL GRAVES

TOKYO (AP) — Reigning Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles is out of the team finals after apparently sustaining an injury during the vault.

The 24-year-old U.S. star, considered to be the greatest gymnast of all time, huddled with a trainer after landing her vault. She then exited the competition floor with the team doctor.

Biles returned several minutes later. She took off her bar grips, hugged teammates Grace McCallum, Sunisa Lee and Jordan Chiles before putting on a jacket and sweatpants.

The Americans will be forced to finish the rest of the competition without her, severely hampering their bid to claim a third straight Olympic title.

The U.S. began finals on vault, with Biles going last. She was supposed to do an “Amanar,” a vault that begins with a roundoff back handspring onto the table followed by 2 1/2 twists. She seemed to change her mind in mid-air, doing just 1 1/2 twist instead.

She walked off the podium and was tended to by team doctor Marcia Faustin before making her way out of the arena.

Biles arrived in Tokyo as the unquestioned star of the Games but struggled, at least by her high standards, during qualifying. In a social media post on Monday, she admitted she felt like the weight of the world was on her shoulders and that the Olympics “were no joke.”

Biles won five medals in Rio de Janeiro five years ago and had a chance to actually top that after advancing to all five finals. It remains to be seen whether she will be available for the all-around final on Thursday night and the event finals later in the Games.

After two rotations, the United States trails ROC 2.5 points.

_____

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Olympic Photos: Team USA continues to find success in Tokyo Monday

Lydia Jacoby salvages Team USA’s day in troubled Olympic waters as the beach volleyball duo of April Ross and Alix Klineman improve to 2-0.

  • April Ross #1 of Team United States returns against Team Spain during the Women’s Preliminary – Pool B beach volleyball on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Shiokaze Park on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • Kolohe Andino of Team United States reacts after his win on day three of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach on July 26, 2021 in Ichinomiya, Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

  • Kolohe Andino of Team United States surfs during the men’s Quarter Final on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach on July 27, 2021 in Ichinomiya, Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

  • Alix Klineman #2 of Team United States looks on against Team Spain during the Women’s Preliminary – Pool B beach volleyball on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Shiokaze Park on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • April Ross #1 of Team United States enters the court during introductions against Team Spain during the Women’s Preliminary – Pool B beach volleyball on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Shiokaze Park on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • Alix Klineman #2 of Team United States serves against Team Spain during the Women’s Preliminary – Pool B beach volleyball on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Shiokaze Park on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • April Ross #1 of Team United States celebrates against Team Spain during the Women’s Preliminary – Pool B beach volleyball on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Shiokaze Park on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • Alix Klineman #2 of Team United States looks on against Team Spain during the Women’s Preliminary – Pool B beach volleyball on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Shiokaze Park on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • April Ross #1 of Team United States dives in an attempted return against Team Spain during the Women’s Preliminary – Pool B beach volleyball on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Shiokaze Park on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • Kanoa Igarashi of Team Japan completes a huge aerial to find a last minute winning score against Gabriel Medina of Team Brazil during the men’s semi final on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach on July 27, 2021 in Ichinomiya, Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

  • Kanoa Igarashi of Team Japan leaves the beach after his win in the mens’s semi final on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach on July 27, 2021 in Ichinomiya, Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

  • Kanoa Igarashi of Team Japan surfs during the mens’s semi final on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach on July 27, 2021 in Ichinomiya, Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

  • Lydia Jacoby of Team United States competes in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke Final on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

  • Alix Klineman #2 of Team United States looks on prior to a match against Team Spain during the Women’s Preliminary – Pool B beach volleyball on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Shiokaze Park on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • Naomi Osaka of Team Japan plays a forehand during her Women’s Singles Third Round match against Marketa Vondrousova of Team Czech Republic on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Tennis Park on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

  • Naomi Osaka of Team Japan serves during her Women’s Singles Third Round match against Marketa Vondrousova of Team Czech Republic on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Tennis Park on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

  • Naomi Osaka of Team Japan prepares to serve during her Women’s Singles Third Round match against Marketa Vondrousova of Team Czech Republic on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Tennis Park on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

  • Naomi Osaka of Team Japan prepares to serve during her Women’s Singles Third Round match against Marketa Vondrousova of Team Czech Republic on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Tennis Park on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

  • Samuel Mikulak of the United States competes in the high bar event of the men’s team gymnastics in Tokyo on July 26, 2021, at the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

  • Gymnasts from the United States, from left, Yul Moldauer, Samuel Mikulak, and Shane Wiskus watch teammate Brody Malone performing on the horizontal bar during the artistic men’s team final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, July 26, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Samuel Mikulak, of the United States, performs on the parallel bars during the artistic men’s team final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, July 26, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

  • Gymnasts from the United States, from left, Yul Moldauer, Samuel Mikulak, and Shane Wiskus watch teammate Brody Malone performing on the horizontal bar during the artistic men’s team final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, July 26, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Samuel Mikulak, of United States, greets a team member after his routine on the parallel bars during the artistic men’s team final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, July 26, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • April Ross, right, of the United States, and teammate Alix Klimeman wave after winning a women’s beach volleyball match against Spain at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

  • April Ross, right of the United States, and teammate Alix Klimeman react after winning a women’s beach volleyball match against Spain at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

  • April Ross, right of the United States, and teammate Alix Klimeman wave after winning a women’s beach volleyball match against Spain at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

  • Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi goes to the air on a wave during the semifinals of the men’s surfing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, at Tsurigasaki beach in Ichinomiya, Japan. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

  • Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi goes to the air on a wave during the semifinals of the men’s surfing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, at Tsurigasaki beach in Ichinomiya, Japan. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

  • Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi goes to the air on a wave during the semifinals of the men’s surfing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, at Tsurigasaki beach in Ichinomiya, Japan. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

  • Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi, left, shake hands with Kolohe Andino, of the United States, after wining the quarterfinals of the men’s surfing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, at Tsurigasaki beach in Ichinomiya, Japan. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

  • Kolohe Andino, of the United States, goes to the air during the quarterfinals of the men’s surfing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, at Tsurigasaki beach in Ichinomiya, Japan. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

  • Kolohe Andino, of the United States, rides a wave during the quarterfinals of the men’s surfing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, at Tsurigasaki beach in Ichinomiya, Japan. (Olivier Morin/Pool Photo via AP)

  • Lydia Jacoby of the United States waves after winning the final of the women’s 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

  • Lydia Jacoby of the United States waves after winning the final of the women’s 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

  • Lydia Jacoby, of the United States, reacts after winning the final of the women’s 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

  • Gold medalist Lydia Jacoby, centre, of the United States, stands with silver medalist Tatjana Schoenmaker, left, of South Africa, and bronze medalist Lilly King, of the United States, after the final of the women’s 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

  • Lydia Jacoby of the United States, sees the results after winning the final of the women’s 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

  • Gold medalist Lydia Jacoby of the United States, left, is embraced by silver medalist Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa after winning the final of the women’s 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

  • Lydia Jacoby, of the United States, poses with the gold medal after winning the final of the women’s 100-meter breaststrokeat the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

  • Naomi Osaka, of Japan, leaves center court after being defeated by Marketa Vondrousova, of the Czech Republic, during the third round of the tennis competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

  • Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi goes to the air on a wave during the semifinals of the men’s surfing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, at Tsurigasaki beach in Ichinomiya, Japan. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

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U.S. women’s basketball beats Nigeria for 50th consecutive Olympic win

By DOUG FEINBERG AP Basketball Writer

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 (Monday night PT) in the opener for both teams.

The win was the Americans’ 50th consecutive victory in the Olympics dating 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 lingering effects from the injury that sidelined her for Team USA’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 to 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 led 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 it would get, although Nigeria 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.

TIP-INS

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.

STRANGE STAT

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 women’s basketball game 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 Championships in 2018, falling to the U.S. in the quarterfinals.

UP NEXT:

Team USA faces Japan on Friday.

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