|USA Women Outlast Russia 90-80, Improve To 3-0|
Tina Thompson (Houston Comets) was a perfect 4-of-4 from beyond the arc and finished with a game-high 19 points as the 2006 USA Basketball World Championship Team (3-0) held off Russia (2-1) 90-80 on Thursday evening in the José Corrêa Arena in Barueri, Brazil. Thompson was not alone in scoring in double digits as the U.S. received 17 points from reserve Candace Parker (Tennessee / Naperville, Ill.), 14 from DeLisha Milton-Jones (Washington Mystics) and 11 points from Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury).
With the win, the U.S. claimed the Group C number one seed, advances to the Sept. 16-18 second round and will face Group D third place finisher Cuba (2-1) on Sept. 16, France (2-1) on Sept. 17, and Czech Republic (2-1), the top team from that pool, on Sept. 18. Also advancing from the USA's Group C are Russia and China (1-2), which finished second and third, respectively in preliminary pool play. The top four teams from the second round groups (records against preliminary round teams carry over to the second round) will then advance to the Sept. 20 quarterfinals with the semifinals slated for Sept. 21 and the gold medal will be contested Sept. 23.
"We feel very pleased that we were able to beat a very good Russian team tonight," said USA and Seattle Storm head coach Anne Donovan. "I thought we played well at the start of the game and had moments in the second half where we looked very good and we had moments where we struggled a little bit. So I was very pleased to get a win against a very good team."
"I think partially it was a good shooting night," reflected Thompson on her performance. "But I was pretty open a lot of the time. I think probably three of them were uncontested and I think that at this level you can't let players take wide open shots. It's something we practice everyday and I was surprised myself that I got those looks but happy that I was able to knock them down."
The United States, which showed moments of cohesiveness and stellar play, also looked sloppy at various times throughout the contest. In fact, the U.S. owned a 21-point, 86-65, lead with 4:32 to play and allowed Russia to close the gap to 10 during the game's waning minutes. That was the story most of the night for this USA team that was together on the court for the very first time ever during its warm-up prior to the World Championship opener against China on Sept. 12.
"Every day we get better," said Donovan. "The first time we had these 12 players together was the first game here, Tuesday the 12th. We are getting better everyday so hopefully when we get to the medal round, if we continue to play good basketball in the next round and get to the medal round, we'll be playing better than we are right now. I'd say we're about halfway there to be honest."
Thompson connected on a pair of threes sandwiched around a Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) 3-pointer as the United States went 3-of-4 from 3-point land to start the contest. 2005 European Championship MVP Maria Stepanova put her squad on the board at 7:44, but the USA again reeled off a 9-2 run, capped by five points from Taurasi, and less than four minutes into the game the Americans were dominating 18-4.
However, the U.S. was unable to run out and put the game away early. Russia responded with a 13-4 spurt and at 3:06 was back in the game 22-17. By the time the first quarter buzzer sounded the USA was up by eight, 33-25, after shooting a sizzling 72.2 (13-18 FGs) percent.
The USA, which saw its lead cut to four points early in the second quarter (33-29 at 8:19), expanded its advantage again and at the halftime buzzer seemed in control 55-39. After a nearly even third quarter that saw Russia outscore the United States 21-20, the Americans were up by double digits heading into the final frame 75-61.
Following a Russian basket to open the final stanza, Taurasi reeled off a pair of threes and Bird followed suit with one of her own as the U.S. again went up big, 81-63, with 6:07 left in the game.
The red, white and blue was unable to sustain its lead or its defensive pressure as Russia rallied with a 12-2 run that ended at 2:34 with the USA's lead cut to 86-75. Russia's efforts were too little too late as the United States fought through the final minutes for the 10-point win.
"Fortunately we played well to start off the game and got out to a really good start and took a pretty big lead and at one point we went up 20 points," said Bird, who averaged 4.7 apg. in the USA's first three games. "But unfortunately we weren't able to close it out. We kept letting them hang around and cut our lead and come back a little bit and that's not something we want to do. When you get up big you need to stay up big."
Also aiding in the USA's victory were Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever), who grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds to go with eight points, Cheryl Ford (Detroit Shock) scored seven points and grabbed six boards, while Milton-Jones snagged nine rebounds.
The USA, which was a red-hot 55.6 percent (20-36 FGs) from the field and 70.0 (7-10 3pt FGs) from 3-point in the first half, finished the night connecting on 49.2 percent (31-63 FGs) overall and 64.7 percent (11-17 3pt FGs) from beyond the arc. The Americans outrebounded Russia 42-22 and dished out 15 assists
In other preliminary round action Argentina (2-1) downed South Korea (0-3) 73-64, Spain (2-1) nicked Brazil (2-1) 67-66, Lithuania (2-1) handed Senegal (0-3) a 74-63 loss, Australia (3-0) roared past Canada (1-2) in the second half for a 97-65 finish, the Czech Republic took Taiwan (0-3) 93-72, Cuba upset France 78-73, and China (1-2) advanced to the next round by putting away Nigeria (0-3) 71-59.
The top three finishing teams from each preliminary round group will advance to the second round, where the top three teams in Group C, the USA's preliminary pool, will compete Sept. 16-18 against the top three teams in Group D (times TBD). The advancing teams from Group A and Group B will play against each other in the second round. All of the USA's World Championship games are being televised live on NBA TV, with FSN (Fox Sports Network) replaying the games each night at midnight (all times EDT).
Quarterfinals are scheduled for Sept. 20, with the semifinals played Sept. 21. On Sept. 22, the bronze medal will be contested at 10:00 a.m., with the gold medal game following at 1:00 p.m.
Donovan is being assisted at the 2006 FIBA World Championship by 2006 WNBA Coach of the Year Mike Thibault of the Connecticut Sun and collegiate head coaches Gail Goestenkors of Duke University (N.C.) and Dawn Staley of Temple University (Pa.).
2006 FIBA World Championship
The Donovan-led U.S. squad will seek to defend its World Championship
title at the 15th FIBA World Championship. Behind the play of 2002 FIBA
World Championship MVP Leslie, as well as Bird, Catchings, Milton-Jones,
Smith and Swoopes, the United States captured the 02 gold medal,
successfully defending it's 1998 World Championship crown.
The U.S. entered this year's Worlds with a record seven gold medals, one silver and one bronze at the World Championship, while compiling an 80-20 (.800 winning percentage) record, including a 19-0 winning streak that dates back to the 1994 bronze medal game.