|USA Advances To Medal Quarterfinals Undefeated, Cancels Czechs 63-50|
On a night when shots just refused fall, the 2006 USA Women's World Championship Team (6-0) turned to its defense to help it post a 63-50 victory over a stubborn Czech Republic (4-2) team on Monday night in the José Corrêa Arena in Barueri, Brazil. Candace Parker (Tennessee / Naperville, Ill.) and Tina Thompson (Houston Comets) paced the struggling U.S. offense with 14 points apiece, while Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) notched 13 and Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) added 10.
"The Czech Republic played a fantastic game," said USA and Seattle Storm head coach Anne Donovan. "They've been playing very well this tournament. They started off with a loss, but they've spent every game getting better so we knew it was going to be a very difficult game for us tonight. I give them a lot of credit, they played very, very well. We managed to play well enough to get a win."
The U.S. advances to the medal quarterfinals as one of two undefeated teams remaining in the tournament and will face Lithuania (3-3), the No. 4 squad advancing from Group E, on Sept. 20 in Sao Paulo. The USA's quarterfinal contest will air live at 6:45 p.m. (all times EDT) on NBA TV, with FSN scheduled to replay the game at midnight.
Winners of the quarterfinals will compete in the Sept. 21 medal semifinals, with the winners advancing to the Sept. 23 gold medal game. A gold medal isn't the only thing at stake here. The team that captures the 2006 FIBA World Championship will earn an automatic entry into the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
The USA, which was leading all teams in the tournament for field goal percentage (.533) coming into tonight's game, managed to connect on just 27.2 percent (3-11 FGs) in the first five minutes. But it helped that the Czechs also couldn't buy a basket (1-11 FGs) as the U.S. went up 8-2. The shooting woes continued for both teams and at the half the Americans had managed to shoot a low of 29.4 percent. The Czechs were slightly better at 33.3 percent. While the Americans were outrebounded 27-16, they had just five turnovers and forced the Czechs into 12.
Coming out of the locker room with a renewed focus and owning a slim 31-28 margin, the USA jumped out quickly by scoring nine unanswered points. Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) hit the first bucket of the second half, which was followed less than two minutes later by a Thompson 3-pointer. On the Czech Republic's next play Taurasi grabbed the rebound as her former college teammate sprinted to the other end. She lobbed the ball to Bird, who made a layup that gave the USA a 10-point cushion just 18 seconds after Taurasi's three. Two Czech possessions later it was DeLisha Milton-Jones (Washington Mystics) who was there to grab the defensive board. She got it to Taurasi, who spied Bird heading towards the USA basket. In what looked like the exact same play, Bird caught the long bomb from Taurasi, soared in for another layup and with 15:50 to play the U.S. was up 40-28.
"From the get go one of our game plans was to run on them," said Bird. "There were a couple of times when I was able to leak out on them a little bit. Once I saw we had the board I was like I'm out of here.' A couple of times because I was contesting the shot I was already out there so I said I might as well keep going and my teammates did a great job finding me, it was like football."
It might have been a simple 9-0 run, but that was what the Americans needed to put some distance between them and the Europeans. The Czechs outscored the U.S. 10-9 to close out the third quarter, but the USA never let the gap get cut to less than eight points. By the end of the third quarter the squad was up by 11, 49-38. The red, white and blue went ahead by as much as 19 points in the fourth quarter, 63-44 with 1:40 to go, but the Czech Republic scored the game's final six points to end the night.
"It was a difficult game for us," added Donovan. "Even in the third and fourth quarters we had to struggle to win the game. I thought it was a great test for us. Many of the games have been won by large margins and a close game is a good thing for us right now."
The second half saw a significant change in the U.S. squad. The Americans outrebounded the Czechs 32-19 in the second half to win the battle of the boards 48-46. Additionally, after grabbing just three offensive boards in the first half, the USA had 14 in the second.
"I think the biggest thing for us that Anne talked about (at halftime) is rebounding on the offensive end," said Catchings, who led the team with nine rebounds. "Our game has been transition, getting the rebounds and going. They were getting offensive board after offensive board and that was one of the things we talked about at halftime - going out, controlling the boards, pushing the ball in transition. Sue got out, Diana found her on some great passes. That's our game, when we're running that's the USA game at our best."
Milton-Jones and Thompson had seven rebounds apiece, Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets) and Taurasi each passed off three assists.
The one blocked shot credited to Parker brings her total at the World Championship to 10. She is now one block away from tying three-time Olympian and three-time World Championship team member Katrina McClain-Johnson's USA World Championship record for most blocks in a competition. McClain-Johnson swatted 11 at the 1990 Worlds.
The United States finished the night shooting 32.0 percent (24-75 FGs), but coughed up the ball just 12 times, while forcing 22 Czech turnovers.
Petra Kulichova was the only player on her side to score in double digits with 10 points. The United States held Eva Viteckova, who averaged 20.0 ppg. in her first five games, and Hana Machova, 15.4 ppg. heading into tonight's game, to nine and four points, respectively.
Tonight's victory upped the USA's current FIBA World Championship winning streak, which dates to the 1994 World Championship bronze medal game, to 25 games and extends the USA's string of victories to 49 overall in the Olympics and Worlds.
In other Group F second round action Russia (3-3) defeated Cuba (2-4) 96-81, and China (3-3) stunned France (3-3) 66-64. While in Group E, Australia (6-0) advanced as the No. 1 seed out of the group by virtue of an 83-49 victory over Argentina (3-3), Spain (4-2) earned the No. 2 seed after lambasting No. 4 seed Lithuania (3-3) 75-55 and host Brazil (4-2) doubled Canada's (1-5) output, 82-41, to finish in the No. 3 spot out of Group E.
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.
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.