USA Women's U18 National Team Wins Gold With Triumph Over Brazil In 2010 FIBA Americas U18 Championship
The expectations for the USA Women's U18 National Team in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship were great. So were the results.
With an 81-38 victory over Brazil (3-2) on June 27 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., the USA finished 5-0 in the tournament and won its fourth straight gold medal against the top 18-and-under international competition in the FIBA Americas zone, including Central, North and South America.
"I was nervous going into this process, and I know, looking back now at our margin of victory, that maybe I shouldn't have been as nervous," said Jennifer Rizzotti, USA and University of Hartford head coach. "But you want this team to meet the expectations of the accomplishments of teams in the past, and you want this team to measure up as one of the greats to ever play at U18. So, yeah, those were high. But after three weeks of being here and working hard, this team improved at a very rapid rate, and I was very proud at what it turned out to be."
The victory over Brazil caps a tournament in which the USA flourished from the start. In winning five straight games, the USA outscored its opponents, 467-188, for an average margin of victory of 55.8 points " by far a tournament best.
In addition to that, the USA led the Championship in 11 different statistical categories, including scoring offense (93.4 ppg.), field goal percentage (.486), rebounding margin per game (plus-33.2) and assists per game (20.4). Further, seven of the tournament's top 10 leaders in field goal percentage were U.S. players.
"Sometimes at a young age, I think you rely so much on individual talent. And this group really came together," said Rizzotti, who also won a gold medal as an assistant coach on the 2006 USA Women's U18 National Team. "And I think we were much better because we learned to play as a team."
Chiney Ogwumike (Cy-Fair H.S./Cypress, Texas), second among the Championship's overall field goal percentage leaders (.609), led the USA in scoring with 13.2 points per game, which ranked fifth in the tournament field. Bria Hartley (North Babylon H.S./North Babylon, N.Y.) ranked No. 8 with 10.6 points per game, while 16-year old Malina Howard (Twinsburg H.S./Twinsburg, Ohio), who was the second-youngest player on the team, led the tournament in field goal percentage (.625).
Not coincidentally, Howard led the USA against Brazil with 12 points. Hartley scored 11 points in the game, as did Theresa Plaisance (Vandebilt Catholic H.S./Marrero, La.). Diamond DeShields (Norcross H.S./Norcross, Ga.), the youngest player on the team, scored 10 against Brazil, while Alexis Jones (MacArthur H.S./Irving, Texas) and Ogwumike each had nine points.
Much like it did in its previous four games, the USA darted to a quick lead in the first quarter against Brazil. Five different players scored the American's first five buckets, and Hartley hit a floater in the lane with 3:23 left in the quarter to put the USA up, 14-3. Though Brazil countered with two baskets in the final three minutes, DeShields scored six straight points, four on free throws, and Plaisance put back a miss at the buzzer to give the USA a 22-7 lead after one.
Howard then scored eight of her points in the second quarter, the last of which gave the Americans a 43-16 lead at halftime, even though they weren't playing to their own lofty standards.
"In the first half, we looked really sluggish, kind of like we were just going through the motions and not really playing with a purpose," said Ally Malott (Madison H.S./Middletown, Ohio). "But Coach got on us at halftime and fired us up, and I thought we came out with great energy in the second half."
Coming out of the half, Ogwumike started the third quarter with a bucket, then Hartley followed with a layup and a 3-pointer. After Milena Santos scored for Brazil, Malott's 3-pointer sparked a 15-0 USA run that gave the Americans a 65-18 lead that it carried through the remainder of the third and all of the fourth, while the seconds ticked away until their gold-medal finish was final.
"It feels remarkable, unbelievable, like our hard work was finally enough for what it took to be here right now," Ogwumike said. "So it's really awesome. We were here for, what, 20 days? And we had a goal. We had a mission, and we attained it. It's a moment that I'll always remember."
The gold medal is the USA's fourth straight in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship, going back to 2000, when it was still known as the FIBA Americas Junior World Championship Qualifier. Since the USA first began competing in the tournament in 1988, it has amassed a 38-2 record in tournament games and has won gold medals in 1988, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Also, as one of the top four finishing teams in this year's FIBA Americas U18 Championship for Women, the USA earned a berth in the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championships next summer in Chile.
Brazil, the runner-up, also qualified, as did Canada, which beat Chile 81-42 for third place. Since Chile, which finished fourth, was among the tournament's top four finishers but automatically qualified for next year's U19 Worlds as the host country, the fourth qualifying berth went to Argentina, which defeated Mexico, 64-51, for fifth place.