Additional Quotes: USA 73, Japan 66 (semifinals)
USA head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio (Pittsburgh)
What are your thoughts on today’s win over Japan?
For three quarters, our execution was great on both ends of the floor. Defensively, we talked about staying home on shooters, not coming off contested drives and trying to stay in plays to challenge all shots and dominate the boards. But, this was a team that can pick you apart when you gamble and go for steals or don’t box out – they will capitalize on those opportunities. We were solid for three quarters, and then we had a letup.
Offensively, we wanted to attack them on the block. We talk about playing inside out, being able to attack with penetration off on-ball screens. They are not a team that is overly aggressive with hedging on ball screens, so we felt our guards could come off and create scoring opportunities, whether it was for themselves or their teammates.
Our execution through three quarters was great, and then ‘Sug’ (Alecia Sutton) goes down, we made some subs and we had a letup. We hit a stretch where we couldn’t score and they were hitting shots. They never quit, and we didn’t expect them to, but we needed to do a better job of taking care of the ball and continuing to attack. I thought we settled for jumpers instead of attacking. They made shots and picked us apart a little bit when we fell asleep defensively.
Were you worried during that stretch of the fourth quarter?
Yes. I was very worried. The game is not over until it’s over. We have to compete and play for 40 minutes until that buzzer. We just had some possessions where we came up empty. Again, this was a team that capitalizes when you turn the ball over. Long shots created long rebounds. We gambled and they were able to score.
But, you know what, we found a way to win, and right now, that’s all that matters. We are playing in the gold medal game. The score right now, I said, there’s no asterisk next to it whether the game is pretty or ugly, good or bad. A win is a win. Right now, this is why we’ve come here, because it was our goal to compete for the gold medal tomorrow night.
What can you say about Chennedy Carter and Ruthy Hebard’s performances tonight?
You know, we got contributions from everyone, but right from the beginning, I thought Ruthy was very aggressive going to the basket, rebounding and with put-backs. She really got us off to a good start, and we were able to feed off that. Defensively, she was playing very well, rebounding and we created off our defense early, and I think she was the start of that.
Chennedy was a great spark off the bench. She is so talented. I’ll be honest with you, she’s a go-to player when we need a basket. I want the ball in her hands, to be able to get to the rim and make things happen. Those two really had good games.
Megan Walker came off the bench in that first half and really gave us good minutes. She was a great spark in making things happen. Early on, we were getting fouled on jump shots and getting to the free throw line. I thought our starters got us off to a great start, and then we had players off the bench in Chennedy and Megan that gave us that spark.
Russia has a pair of professional players. What’s the outlook against Russia?
When you have a tandem like that, with a great post presence like she (Maria Vadeeva) is – she’s unreal. She’s so talented around the block. Watching her tonight even, she stepped out and hit a 3. She’s strong and she’s versatile. One on one, she is very difficult to contain. And then Musina, she’s very smart and can shoot the ball. She has great size and great length. Not only is it what they do offensively for their team, but what they do defensively with their length and her presence inside. It’s a great tandem to have. But then, they have a supporting cast. They have other guards that can shoot the ball and they have other post players. Their team is very talented, and it will be a very tough matchup for us.
Crystal Dangerfield (Connecticut/Murfreesboro, Tenn.)
Having played against Russia in the 2015 final, what do you expect from them tomorrow?
I know they are going to try to use (Raisa Musina and Maria Vadeeva) as much as they can. Their offense – pretty much everything runs through them, especially with them being on the team two years ago. So, they know what this is about, and I know they are going to be looking for payback. They want that gold medal, too, so we are going to have to come ready to fight tomorrow.
Ruthy Hebard (Oregon/Fairbanks, Alaska)
On her play inside:
They were a little smaller, so I definitely tried to use that to my advantage and just go to work and go strong to the boards today.
On Japan's style of play:
They're definitely very fast on their feet. They played really good defense. They bumped us inside, but I thought we had good ball movement tonight and we just shut them down.
How were you able to expand your lead in the second and third quarters?
By hitting shots and going hard to the glass.
What happened in the fourth quarter and were you worried at all?
I was a little worried that they might come back, but I knew that we were contiuing to play good defense. I'm really glad that we won.
Megan Walker (Monacan H.S./Chesterfield, Va.)
How was the team able to put the game away with big runs?
I feel like it was our energy off the bench. We focused on our defense, not sucking in to help and we were closing out to shooters.
What happened in the fourth quarter to let Japan creep back into the game?
I think all great teams make a run. We knew it was coming. We just had to come back from that.
What can you say about Ruthy Hebard’s game tonight?
She was great. She finished with what, 24? Yeah, she was great. Ruthy shows up big for us every night. This was a big game, and I’m happy for her.
What is the outlook on Russia tomorrow?
It’s going to be a tough game. They are really physical. They’ve got a good post player, two pros. And, they can shoot the ball very well. We’re going to have to play solid defense. It should be a good game.