Preview: USA vs. Latvia
Following an off-day Monday, the USA Basketball Women’s World Cup Team (2-0) will wrap up Group D play in the FIBA World Cup with a game against Latvia (0-2) Tuesday at 1 p.m. EDT in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain, on ESPN+. The meeting will be the USA’s first game against Latvia, which is playing in its first World Cup, in the 18th edition of the event.
The USA, ranked No. 1 by FIBA, is one of five undefeated teams after the first two days of play, joining No. 2 Spain, No. 3 France, No. 4 Canada and No. 5 Australia. Latvia is No. 26 in the FIBA rankings. It secured its position in this tournament with a sixth-place finish at FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2017. Despite inspired play in both of its games over the weekend, it remains winless.
Latvia faced China in its first game on Saturday. Propelled by active fans and the possibility of earning the nation’s first World Cup victory, Latvia scrapped to push China but fell short. Sixteen points from Anete Steinberga were not enough in a 64-61 loss. Despite China’s significant height advantage, Latvia outrebounded China 49-39, led by Steinberga with 11.
“They did a great job in game one (against China) of putting pressure on the other team,” said USA assistant coach Dan Hughes (Seattle Storm), who scouted Latvia. “If you can rebound the ball well, you can control the tempo. That seems to be a key stat when you play them.”
That same fierce mentality was adopted when Latvia played Senegal on Sunday. Latvia made just 34.2 percent of its shots and held Senegal to 42.4 percent shooting. Again, Latvia fell in a close contest, 70-69, despite 14 points from forward Kristine Vitola, who made three-of-four shots and seven-of-seven free throws. Kitija Laksa scored 12 points.
“They could easily be 2-0,” Hughes said. “Both games were decided by possessions in the end.”
The USA has seen success against both teams that defeated Latvia. On Saturday, the USA overcame a slow start to put away Senegal 87-67, thanks in the large part to the scoring effort from Elena Delle Donne (Washington Mystics), who had 19.
The next day, the USA outpaced China 100-88 in an offensive battle. Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm) and A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces) both hit the 20-point mark on the evening, with 23 and 20, respectively.
Though the USA’s effort thus far has solidified its place in the next round of the tournament, Hughes is not overlooking the last opponent of the group phase.
“They’re a very capable team,” he said. “They respect the game. You’re going to get their best effort. We have to answer that kind of call.”
Ryan Gregory is a contributor to USAB.com as part of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI.
The USA will be in the hunt to earn a 10th World Cup gold medal at the 2018 FIBA World Cup Sept. 22-30 in Tenerife, Spain. Follow along on the team’s journey on usab.com and through USA Basketball’s social media as the team goes for gold.