USA Women Fend Off Puerto Rico for 87-65 Win Over AmeriCup Host
The USA (2-0) rode a 25-10 second-quarter surge past Puerto Rico (2-1) for an 87-65 win over the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup host country on Sunday evening at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The USA will play Venezuela at 6:10 p.m. EDT on June 14 (all games will be available on ESPN+) and will wrap up the preliminary round against Argentina at 9:10 p.m. EDT on June 15.
Trailing 23-18 after the first quarter, the USA tightened its defense to turn the tide in the game.
“I think with this young group it is taking them a little bit of time to adjust to the physicality of it, what you could get away with out there on the floor, what you have to endure,” said Dawn Staley (South Carolina), USA AmeriCup and National Team head coach. “It’s taken a quarter to get used to things, and once we've adjusted, I thought our defense was much better. I thought our ability to rebound the ball was great.”
Naz Hillmon (Michigan/Cleveland, Ohio) had 17 points and 11 rebounds, Rhyne Howard (Kentucky/Cleveland, Tenn.) had 17 points and was one of four U.S. players with three assists and Aliyah Boston (South Carolina/St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.) had 15 points, eight rebounds and USA women’s AmeriCup single-game record three blocked shots, bettering a mark of two blocks that had been reached by five players between 1993 and 2019.
Elissa Cunane (NC State/Summerfield, N.C.) rounded out the double-digit scorers with 10 points and eight rebounds, and the USA as a team set a USA women’s AmeriCup single-game record with 88 field goal attempts, topping the mark of 86 set in 2019.
“We knew that rebounding was important, especially when our shots were not falling, having to get second-chance opportunities was very important to make our run later in the game,” Hillmon said. “I think that will be an emphasis throughout this tournament, especially since we have a height advantage.”
Howard paced the USA in the first quarter with eight points, but Puerto Rico, which is playing with the team expected to suit up for the nation in the Tokyo Olympic Games next month, saw Jennifer O’Neill score 15 of her 20 points in the game in the first 10 minutes.
Puerto Rico pushed its lead to 27-18 to start the second period, but the USA gave up just six points for the remainder of the stanza while Boston led six U.S. scorers with eight points in the quarter. After working its way back to tied at 31-31, the USA took the lead for good when Veronica Burton (Northwestern/Newton, Mass.) sank a 3-pointer with 2:22 before halftime, which was followed by 3s from Howard and Cunane and a three-point play by Hillmon, and the USA led 43-33 at halftime.
“It was a tough one at the beginning,” Howard said. “We knew they were going to come out hard, and we knew they were going hit some shots. Coach just told us to keep our confidence and stay with it and they would get tired, because they can't run with us. So, we just stayed together, and shots started falling.”
Puerto Rico scored first out of the halftime break, but the USA put together a 14-1 run and led 57-36 at 5:25. O’Neill scored her last points for Puerto Rico at the 8:01 mark after the midway point, while Hillmon tallied eight points and Howard added six for the USA, which led 68-45 with 10 minutes to play.
Puerto Rico outscored the USA 20-19 in the fourth quarter, but the U.S. victory was well in hand throughout the second half.
The USA collected 61 rebounds to Puerto Rico’s 37 boards, which helped the USA counter its 36.4% shooting (32-88 FGs) – Puerto Rico shot just 37.7% percent from the field (23-61 FGs) – and the USA forced 15 turnovers and collected 12 steals.
“We knew that they were going to come out on fire,” Jones said. “They had a great crowd here, so we knew we just kind of had to weather the storm and it was going be a tough crowd. I think we showed that we have a lot of depth. We have a lot of different players that came in off the bench and made an impact.”
In today’s other games, Colombia (2-1) topped El Salvador (0-2) 92-67, and Canada (2-0) edged past Brazil (2-1) 71-67. The game scheduled between Argentina and Venezuela was postponed by FIBA due to COVID-19 protocols after inconclusive test results for the Argentina delegation.
The top four teams from each preliminary pool of five teams will advance to the quarterfinals, which will be played on June 17. The semifinals are on June 18, and the third place and gold-medal games will be played on June 19.
The top four finishing teams at the AmeriCup will advance to compete in one of four 2022 FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournaments, in hopes of earning one of the 12 spots in the 2022 FIBA World Cup.
Jennifer Rizzotti (Connecticut Sun president) assistant coach for the USA AmeriCup and Women’s National Teams, and University of Arizona head coach Adia Barnes completes the USA AmeriCup staff.