'I'll be ready to go': Diana Taurasi declares herself fit to play in Team USA's Olympic opener

United States' Diana Taurasi takes part in a women's basketball practice at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 24, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

United States' Diana Taurasi takes part in a women's basketball practice at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 24, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Eric Gay / Associated Press

Diana Taurasi will be back on the floor when the U.S. women’s basketball team begins its quest for another Olympic gold medal Tuesday against Nigeria.

“I’ll be ready to go,” Taurasi said Monday on a media Zoom call from Tokyo.

Taurasi, 39, didn’t play in any of Team USA’s exhibition games last week because of a hip injury, but returned to practice upon arriving in Tokyo.

Taurasi and fellow UConn great Sue Bird are trying to become the first five-time gold medalists in women’s basketball.

“Getting here to Tokyo was huge knowing we were going to have those six days of really being able to be on the court and go through the progression that you need when you haven’t been on the court for two and a half, three weeks,” Taurasi said. “The last two days, I’ve done pretty much all the things I need to do to get back on the court. … As many minutes as (head coach Dawn Staley) needs, I’ll be there.”

Taurasi, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, has played just seven games this season with the Phoenix Mercury. She missed five weeks with a fractured sternum, and was sidelined another week with a hip pointer. She also sat out the WNBA All-Star Game and exhibitions versus Australia and Nigeria in Las Vegas.

“It’s been painful,” Taurasi said. “There are times where you kind of have to grind through the pain, and this is one of them. There’s still some pain, but you can’t make it any worse. At this point, I’ve just got to make sure I do all the things that make you feel a little bit better.”

The Americans, whose preliminary opener is Tuesday at 12:40 a.m. against Nigeria, have won six straight gold medals and 49 consecutive games at the Olympics. Their last loss at the Games was in 1992.

They remain favorites in Tokyo. However, the gap may not be as large as it’s been in the past, as evidenced by their exhibition loss to Australia.

“We all know how competitive basketball has gotten over the last five to 10 years. You’ve seen that every year in the Olympics and world championships,” Taurasi said. “With the influx of international players in the WNBA and us going internationally, I think there’s a synergy between basketball countries. The parity is coming, and you can see that.

“It’s no different for us in these Olympics. When you talk about our opening game against Nigeria, that’s a team that has gone through the process of getting to where they are. Now they’re coming into Games expecting to win and play well. We have to really rachet up our competitiveness and make sure we take every step with full respect.”

Staley, who won three Olympic gold medals as a player, concurred with Taurasi.

“The world is catching up to each other,” Staley said. “Nothing in this Olympic Games is going to surprise anybody. Any team that thinks they’re going to just run through this Olympic Games unscathed is setting themselves up for a big-time failure.”

Taurasi made her Olympic debut in the 2004 Athens Games at the age of 22. She became a starter in 2008 in Beijing and was Team USA’s leading scorer at both the 2012 London Games and in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

She knows this is likely her last Olympics.

“Everything comes to an end,” Taurasi said. “When you get closer to the end, you start really appreciating things a little bit more. … I just enjoy playing basketball. I still enjoy going to the gym. To me, it’s still beautiful.”

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour