USA Women’s 3x3 World Cup Team Ready for Run at Gold
Halfway around the world, away from family, friends and the college basketball spotlight, University of Oregon basketball teammates ,, Ruthy Hebard and hat will be held June 8-12 in Manila, Philippines.
It’s relatively unchartered waters for the Duck foursome who boast of little 3x3 experience.
However, not only did this collection of talent go 8-0 to win the 2018 USA Basketball Women’s 3x3 National Championship in April to earn the opportunity to play for the FIBA 3x3 World Cup title, but this past weekend, the Eugene crew defeated France 21-19 in overtime to win the2018 Big Twelve International 3x3 Tournament in Voiron, France.
Claiming the tournament crown was nice, but gaining additional international 3x3 experience may prove even more valuable.
“There was a lot of good competition, it was really good for us,” said Boley, a 6-foot-2 guard who is the team’s most experienced 3x3 player having claimed a silver medal at the 2015 FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup in Debrecen, Hungary. “I thought we improved every game, and it really helped us get used to playing together and playing in that kind of situation. So, it was really good for us.”
The game experience brought to light the differences in 3x3, those primarily being the speed and physicality of the game.
“It was super important, because I didn’t think it was going to be as physical as it was. So, I’m really glad we got to play in France or else we would have got a little bit of a shock in the World Cup,” said Fairbanks, Alaska, native Hebard. “Just knowing what the refs look for, how physical we can be without getting a foul, and getting the rules down a little better was definitely very helpful.”
“It was really fun, it was great experience to be able to get a little 3x3 under our belts,” said Gildon, a 6-foot forward who was named to the all-tournament team in France. “(USA) coach Kara (Lawson) was telling us that they were really physical, and we were like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re physical, too.’ So, it was good to actually experience how physical they were, just so we know coming in to the World Cup how it’s going to be.”
The rules for FIBA 3x3 games include a 10-minute game clock, a 12-second shot clock and the first team to 21 (or whoever is ahead at the end of regulation) wins. Free throws and field goals from within the arc are worth a single point, while anything outside the arc is worth two points.
Playing together at Oregon is certainly a plus for the USA contingent, but 3x3 is a different game. The USA women know if gold is to be won, it will mean improving and learning from each practice and every game.
“I think we improved every game in France,” said Boley. “In the last game (versus France), we kept our composure and played really hard, we played tough and we played smart, and those are really the keys. You have to be really smart when you play 3x3, and I think we’re learning every game to get better.”
Despite the fact that the four student-athletes are limited in 3x3 experience, they have the benefit of knowing each other well as college teammates, and that offers USA Basketball a rare opportunity to field a team with established chemistry.
“Coming in, we had never played 3x3 competitively together aside from practicing together. We’ve definitely learned every game; coach Kara did a great job in helping us learn the rules and all the tricks, and I think just being able to play in that pre-tournament in France helped us get a glimpse of what it’s going to be like,” remarked Ionescu, who averaged a team-high 19.7 points a game for the 33-5 Oregon Ducks in 2017-18.
“I think we all just play really well together,” said Hebard. “Of course, we play college basketball together, and that helps a lot. Just trusting each other and knowing our strengths and weaknesses from playing college basketball together and practicing every day together will definitely get us far in this tournament.”
“It’s awesome (playing with her Oregon teammates),” added Gildon, “because we know each other, we know our strengths and weaknesses and we know what each other likes and what we don’t like. So, being able to play with each other, for me, I feel like it’s an advantage because we know each other’s styles and tendencies. I think we’re ready.”
Twenty women’s teams will be competing in the fifth FIBA 3x3 World Cup. USA opens the preliminary round of the 2018 FIBA 3x3 World Cup against Iran on June 8 (11:50 p.m. EDT), and caps off the day with a game against Andorra (June 9, 2:30 a.m. EDT). Following a day off, the U.S. concludes preliminary round play June 10 facing Uganda (11:50 p.m. EDT) and defending 3x3 champion Russia (June 11, 1:20 a.m. EDT).
Following the round-robin preliminary games, teams will be seeded, and the top two finishing teams from each pool will advance to the June 12 quarterfinals. Winning teams will advance to the semifinals, and the gold and bronze medal games will be held June 12.
“Probably for us it will be being able to keep our intensity for every game, not ever letting our guard down,” said Boley when asked what it might take to win.
“Focus every day, we know we could be the best team here if we play our best, and we can’t have a letdown for any game,” added Hebard. “The games are short, we don’t have a lot of time to mess up, so we ‘ve got to stay focused, stay together and play hard.”
“I think being physical. We knew coming into this after the France tournament that everyone is going to be physical,” stated Gildon. “Also, I think we need to bring it every game. We lost one game in the France tournament and we just weren’t ready, so we have to bring it every day and not take any opponent lightly.”
“Our ability to play together and to know one another is something that is playing in our favor,” stated Ionescu, who was named MVP of the Big 12 3x3 International Tournament and has won gold medals with USA U16
,and U17 teams and a tournament title with a USA U23 team. “Just being able to play with a group of girls that have played together for a few years.
“Also, I think we’re pretty versatile. Erin and Odi are bigger 3s and 4s, but they can guard smaller guards as well, and they showed that in France. I think we’re a tough matchup on offense, and I think we pose problems defensively as well just with our length. We’re all decently tall and have good length so we do disrupt on defense.”
The USA women won the event in 2012 and 2014, took bronze in 2016 and missed the event in 2017, when the FIBA 3x3 World Cup switched from an every-other-year format to an every-year format. The United States is 23-2 all-time in 3x3 World Cup play.
“I’m excited to see what it’s like with the fans, and the atmosphere being a lot more competitive and a lot more things on the line here than there was in our pre-tournament. I’m excited to see how teams rise or don’t rise. I’m just excited to represent my country at the World Cup and hopefully get a gold medal,” said Ionescu.
All of the USA’s 3x3 games will be available to view in the states exclusively on ESPN3 and ESPN+.