USA U19 Women Hold Off Japan 73-66, Advance Into Gold Medal Game
A 33-6 run that spanned the second and third quarters helped the 2017 USA Women’s U19 World Cup Team (6-0) clinch a 73-66 victory over Japan (5-1) in the FIBA U19 World Cup semifinals on Saturday night in Udine, Italy. The win advanced the USA into the gold medal game, where it will face Russia (6-0) in a rematch of the 2015 gold medal game, on July 30 (3 p.m. EDT) in an effort to claim a seventh-consecutive gold medal at the event.
Led by Ruthy Hebard’s (Oregon/Fairbanks, Alaska) monster double-double of 24 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the field and 14 rebounds, the USA’s offensive attack was bolstered by 19 points from Chennedy Carter (Timberview H.S./Mansfield, Texas), Megan Walker (Monacan H.S./Chesterfield, Va.) added 11 points and Tyasha Harris (South Carolina/Noblesville, Ind.) chipped in 10 points and dished out a team-high six assists.
“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,” said Hebard, who is averaging 12.2 points and 8.5 rebounds through six games.
Russia defeated Canada (5-1) 65-41 earlier in the evening. Canada will go up against Japan for the bronze medal.
The USA has earned a record seven gold medals and one bronze in 11 previous U19 World Cups. Russia has captured three silver medals while Canada and Japan have never medaled at the event.
“For three quarters, our execution was great on both ends of the floor,” said USA U19 and University of Pittsburgh head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio. “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.”
The USA held a slim 24-22 lead after the first quarter, which saw the lead change sides seven times, and the score see-sawed in the early minutes of the second period.
With the score knotted for the ninth time in the contest, this time at 30-all, Carter drove to the basket for the first two points in what would become a 17-3 run over the final 5:27 of the first half. Offensively, Walker scored seven points, including a first-half buzzer-beating 3-pointer, Carter had six and Hebard contributed four points. On the defensive end, the American women forced Japan into 1-of-8 shooting from the field and three turnovers.
“They're definitely very fast on their feet,” said Hebard. “They played really good defense. They bumped us inside, but I thought we had good ball movement tonight and we just shut them down.”
Storming out of the locker room, the USA got four points apiece from Hebard and Alecia Sutton (Texas/St. Louis, Mo.) before Japan swished in a 3 at 6:17. Another 8-0 spurt, fueled by field goals from four different players, put the USA in the lead 63-36 with 3:19 to play in the third period. Japan got hot and outscored the U.S. 7-2 to close to cut the deficit to 22 points, 65-43, at the end of the third quarter.
“I feel like it was our energy off the bench,” said Walker of the team’s play through the first 30 minutes of play. “We focused on our defense, not sucking in to help and we were closing out to shooters.”
Japan continued to be hot, headed into the fourth period, notching the first eight points in an eventual 14-4 scoring spree to narrow the gap to 11 points, 69-58, with 3:20 remaining in the game. Carter drove to the hoop for two at 2:21 and followed with a jumper a minute later, sandwiching a Japan bucket and with 1:21 to go the USA’s lead remained in double digits 73-60. Japan hit a pair of 3s, but time ran out before the Asian squad could get any closer.
“Our execution through three quarters was great,” added McConnell-Serio. “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.”
Through the first three quarters of the contest, the USA shot 47.7 percent (28-60 FGs), had outrebounded Japan 41-30 and committed just seven turnovers, off of which Japan scored just four points. In the fourth quarter, however, the USA’s shooting turned cold and the Americans hit just 23.5 percent (4-17 FGs) of its attempts, while Japan went from a 33.9 percent shooting team through three quarters to one that was on fire with 62.5 percent (10-16 FGs) in the final stanza. Seven of the USA’s 14 turnovers in the game were committed in the final 10 minutes of play and Japan managed to score eight points from those miscues.
“I think all great teams make a run,” said Walker. “We knew it was coming. We just had to come back from that.”
The USA outrebounded Japan 50-39 and owned a considerable scoring advantage inside, outscoring Japan 52-30 in the paint.
Also unbeaten Russia features Raisa Musina and Maria Vadeeva, who helped their team capture the silver medal at the 2015 U19 FIBA World Cup. They each have three seasons of professional basketball under their belt, two in the EuroCup and the 2016-17 season was spent in the EuroLeague, as well as stints with the Russian National Team.
“When you have a tandem like that, with a great post presence like she (Maria Vadeeva) is – she’s unreal,” said McConnell-Serio. “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.”
“I know they are going to try to use (Raisa Musina and Maria Vadeeva) as much as they can,” said Crystal Dangerfield (Connecticut/Murfreesboro, Tenn.), who won gold in Russia at the 2015 FIBA U19 World Cup. “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.”
In classification play, Australia (4-2) defeated China (3-3) 70-64 and France (4-2) inched past Spain (3-3) 55-53 in the fifth-eight places semifinal games; Latvia (3-3) downed Mexico (1-5) and Hungary (3-3) earned a 73-65 win over host Italy (2-4) in the ninth-12th places semifinals; while Mali (1-5) picked up its first win after cruising past Egypt (1-5) and Puerto Rico (1-5) also notched its first victory after edging South Korea (0-6) 77-72 in the 13th-16th places semifinal contests.
McConnell-Serio is being assisted by collegiate head coaches Kamie Ethridge from the University of Northern Colorado and Charlotte Smith from Elon University.
FIBA U19 World Cup for Women
Six-time defending FIBA U19 World Cup gold medalists, the USA is hoping to make it a lucky seven in a row at the 12th FIBA U19 World Cup.
Originally known as the FIBA Junior World Championship, FIBA changed the names of its age-based world championships in 2005 to reflect the age of eligibility, and recently updated the names of all of its world championships to world cups. The tournament was held every four years starting in 1985. FIBA in 2005 modified its calendar and now conducts the U19 World Cup every other year. Including its six victories in 2017, USA women's teams are 79-12 in U19/Junior World Cups, capturing a sixth-consecutive gold in 2015 with a 7-0 record.Notable players to represent the USA at the FIBA U19 World Championship include: Alana Beard (2001), Essence Carson (2005), Tamika Catchings (1997), Bria Hartley (2011), Crystal Langhorne (2005), Jantel Lavender (2007), Lisa Leslie (1989), Rebecca Lobo (1993), Maya Moore (2007), Nnemkadi Ogwumike (2009), Vickie Orr (1985), Cappie Pondexter (2001), Katie Smith (1993), Dawn Staley (1989), Azurá Stevens (2015), Breanna Stewart (2011 and MVP of the 2013 U19 World Championship), Diana Taurasi (2001), Morgan Tuck (2011 and 2013) and A’ja Wilson (2013 and MVP of the 2015 U19 World Championship