Fourth-Quarter Surge Propels U.S. Women Past Puerto Rico 93-77 And Into Pan American Games Semifinals
Leading by just three points at the start of the fourth quarter, the 2015 U.S. Pan American Women’s Basketball Team (3-0) outscored Puerto Rico (1-2) 26-13 in the final 10 minutes to earn a 93-77 victory in its final preliminary round game of the 2015 Pan American Games on July 18 at Ryerson Athletic Center in Toronto, Canada.
The USA, which secured the No. 1 seed for Group A, will face Group B No. 2 seed Cuba (2-1) in the medal-round semifinals at 1:30 p.m. EDT on July 19. (live on ESPN3). Brazil (2-1) will face host Canada (3-0) in the second semifinal at 6 p.m. EDT. The winners will play for the gold medal at 8:45 p.m. EDT on July 20, and the losers will meet in the bronze medal game at 4 p.m. EDT.
“I think we kind of all took a real big breath. We just took a big breath going into the fourth quarter, relax, ok, now we’re going to dominate, let’s go out there and dominate,” said USA head coach Lisa Bluder (Iowa). “That was what we were trying to do in the last minutes, and I think our kids really responded.”
The USA was paced by Breanna Stewart (Connecticut/North Syracuse, N.Y.), who was 4-of-5 from 3-point to tally 24 points and 12 rebounds; and Alaina Coates (South Carolina/Irmo, S.C.), who had a double-double by halftime, finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds and had eight offensive boards. Moriah Jefferson (Connecticut/Glenn Heights, Texas) rounded out the USA’s double-digit scorers with 14 points and a game-high six assists.
Both teams shot the ball well, but the USA was red-hot – shooting 50.0 percent from the field (31-62 FGs), helped along by 40 points in the paint, and a sizzling 52.9 percent from 3-point (9-17 3pt FGs), while Puerto Rico was 41.5 percent from the field (27-65 FGs) and 47.4 percent from deep (9-19 3pt FGs). The USA, which recorded 19 assists, also outrebounded Puerto Rico 48-26.
“I thought we were doing such a good job on the rebounds, especially Alaina,” said Bluder. “I just thought she was terrific on the boards for us. We out rebounded them convincingly, and we had such good, high-percentage shots. We shot the ball really well tonight. We had 40 paint points, and so I am surprised it was that close going into the fourth quarter.”
After a made free throw from Reimer to start the game, Jefferson sank back-to-back 3-pointers to put the USA up 7-2. Puerto Rico countered with its first 3 of the game, and at the TV timeout at 4:07, the USA led 15-9. Four more 3-pointers from Puerto Rico helped it stay within one-point of the USA, 24-23, at the end of the first period.
Coates and Stewart scored the USA’s first 14 points of the second quarter, but 10 points from Puerto Rico’s Carla Cortijo Sanchez, who finished the game with 24 points and five assists, helped prevent the USA from pulling away. With Puerto Rico trailing by three points, 36-33, at 5:05, the USA compiled an 8-0 run, but Puerto Rico responded by closing the first half with its own 8-2 spurt to trail by five points, 46-41 at the midway point.
“I just took advantage of them not crashing on the boards offensively and defensively,” Coates said. “It was kind of close, so I knew defensively rebounds were going to help us, and offensively, either getting a put-back or getting it back out to somebody else that was open was really going to help us, especially during that little crunch time that we had.”
Three-pointers from Jefferson and Stewart and a score from Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (Maryland/Aliquippa, Pa.) helped the USA go up 54-45 at 5:12, but again Sanchez Cortijo kept Puerto Rico close with 10 points in the quarter, and after Puerto Rico made two free throws with just .4 seconds in the third period, the USA led 67-64.
Puerto Rico came as close as one point, 68-67, in the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer at 9:29, but after Sanchez Cortijo went down with an injury at 8:42 and did not return, the USA began to run away with the game. While allowing Puerto Rico just 10 more points, the USA got contributions from seven different scorers who combined for 25 points.
The U.S. lead reached its widest margin of the game, 20 points, when Stephanie Mavunga (North Carolina/Brownsburg, Ind.) scored an offensive rebound with 59.5 seconds left to make it 93-73, but Puerto Rico put up the last four points to bring the game to its 93-77 final tally.
“I think we battled, I think we grinded it out,” Jefferson said. “It was not a pretty game, but in the end we got the win.”
For the third consecutive night, U.S. guard Tiffany Mitchell (South Carolina/Charlotte, N.C.) did not play due to a sprained left ankle that occurred during a scrimmage against Canada on July 14.
Also today, Brazil (2-1) won 73-54 against Dominican Republic (0-3), Argentina (1-2) topped Venezuela (0-3) 87-68 and host Canada edged out Cuba 71-68 to secure the No. 1 seed out of Group B.
Dominican Republic will play Venezuela in the seventh-place game on July 19, while Puerto Rico will meet Argentina in the fifth-place game.
“Seeing Cuba today, it was an intense game,” said Kelsey Plum (Washington/Poway, Calif.) of the USA’s semifinal opponent. “I almost thought they were going to beat Canada. They’re a very good team; very athletic; they can shoot the ball; well coached. So, we’re gong to have to get a good night of rest and really prepare for them.”
The USA’s assistant coaches are Michelle Clark-Heard of Western Kentucky University and Scott Rueck of Oregon State University.
Since the first Pan American Games for women in 1955, the USA now has compiled an overall record of 77-14 and has won seven gold medals, four silver medals and two bronze medals.