Preview: USA vs. Belgium
The USA Basketball Women’s World Cup Team will play Belgium in the semifinal round of the FIBA World Cup at the Santiago Martin Arena in San Cristobal de la Laguna, Canary Islands at 12:30 EDT on Saturday.
This is the first meeting between the two countries in any senior-level international competition. The USA (4-0), ranked No. 1 by FIBA, reached an 11th consecutive World Cup semifinal.
No. 6 Belgium (3-1) is competing in its first-ever World Cup after finishing third in the 2017 FIBA EuroBasket competition. Belgium advanced to the semifinal with an 86-65 win over No. 3 France. Kim Mestdagh led Belgium with 23 points to raise her team-high World Cup scoring average to 17.5 points per game, fourth-best in the tournament.
Belgium coach Philip Mestdagh said the goal for the country’s first World Cup appearance was to place in the top eight. The team has already exceeded those expectations by advancing past the quarterfinal to reach a guaranteed a top-four finish.
“This is really amazing,” the Belgium coach said. “This is huge and I’m really excited. We’re going to play the biggest team in the world, so this is unbelievable for Belgium women’s basketball.”
Belgium’s only defeat was a 77-75 loss to Japan in the group phase. Belgium’s 79.75 points per game is 12.2 points above the USA’s defensive average of 67.6. Belgium is allowing just 60.25 points per game while the USA has a scoring average of 90.
USA Basketball assistant coach Dan Hughes (Seattle Storm), who was assigned the scouting duties for Belgium, said he’s been impressed with the team throughout the tournament.
“They just do a great job of playing both ends of the floor with kind of an execution style,” Hughes said. “They move the ball well, they defend as a group. They’re impressive.
“Their emphasis is way different than what we played today,” Hughes said of the 71-40 USA semifinal victory over Nigeria. “This is a team that really stretches the floor, shoots the 3, passes it, screens and moves and plays organized. So we’ve got to turn the page.”
Emma Meesseman, a 6-foot-4 forward, leads all rebounders with an average of 12.3, is seventh in scoring (16.0 points) and is second in blocked shots with an average of 1.8. Julie Allemand, the 5-foot-6 point guard, dished out 13 assists against France. She has averaged a tournament-best 7.3 assists per game, with just 1.8 turnovers.
The USA increased its tournament winning streak to 20 games after enduring a slow start. The nine first-quarter points were the fewest for the USA in one quarter in the tournament. Nigeria’s 20-11 lead was also the biggest deficit the USA has faced. But the USA outscored Nigeria 44-17 in the final two quarters for its largest winning margin of the tournament.
Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm) led the USA with 19 points and five assists. Stewart’s average of 17.0 points leads the USA and is fifth overall in the tournament.
“I thought Nigeria came out and pressured us,” said University of South Carolina and USA coach Dawn Staley, “and it bothered us in the first twenty minutes of the game.”
The first bucket against Belgium will put the USA over 10,000 points in World Cup competition. Sue Bird’s (Seattle Storm) five assists against Nigeria gives her 95 career World Cup assists. She is eight assists behind Staley’s USA record of 103. Advancing to a final against Spain or Australia would give Bird a chance to compete for her fourth gold medal and fifth medal overall. She would be the only player in FIBA World Cup history, men or women, to earn four gold medals.
Frank Bonner II is a contributor to USAB.com as part of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI.
The USA is 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.