Third-Quarter Surge Propels USA Past Brazil 71-60 and Into AmeriCup Gold Medal Game
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Trailing 33-25 at halftime, the USA opened the third quarter with a 13-0 scoring run to take the lead, and it proved to be the difference in the USA’s (5-0) 71-60 win over Brazil (4-2) in the FIBA AmeriCup semifinals on Friday night at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The USA will play host Puerto Rico (4-1) in the gold medal game at 9:10 p.m. EDT on June 19. Brazil will meet Canada (5-1) in the bronze medal game at 6:10 p.m. EDT. All games are available live on ESPN+.
“It just took us a little bit longer than we wanted to adjust – and that’s to the physicality of it, that's the pressure of taking passing lanes away, applying a lot of pressure on the ball,” said Dawn Staley (South Carolina), USA AmeriCup and National Team head coach. “We just had to exhale and see the floor a little bit better, pick up our defense a little bit better. Once the game settled in, I thought we flipped it and we utilized our depth to get a big win against a really good Brazilian team.”
The USA’s three leading scorers all were perfect from the free throw line as the USA set a U.S. women’s AmeriCup single-game record for free throw percentage at 93.8% (15-16 FTs).
Elissa Cunane (NC State/Summerfield, N.C.) shot 4-of-4 from the free throw line and finished with 19 points and eight rebounds, Rhyne Howard (Kentucky/Cleveland, Tenn.) was 6-of-6 from the line and added 12 points and four rebounds, and Naz Hillmon (Michigan/Cleveland, Ohio) was 4-of-4 and finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
“We had to take care of the ball better and play better defense and do what we were capable of,” Cunane said of the USA’s halftime adjustments. “We switched defense on the screens a little bit, and I think that really helped. We were more tenacious and took care of the ball.”
Brazil jumped out to an 8-1 lead and led 21-13 after the first 10 minutes. The USA shot just 22.2% from the field (4-18 FGs) in the first quarter.
The second quarter saw each team score 12 points, and Brazil led 33-25 at halftime.
The USA turned the momentum in its favor to open the third quarter, holding Brazil scoreless for 4:15 while five different U.S. players contributed to a 13-0 run that gave the USA the lead back for good. Veronica Burton (Northwestern/Newton, Mass.), who finished with six assists, capped the stretch with a layup at 6:10 with the USA leading 38-33. Brazil made a 3-pointer at 5:45 to put its first points of the third period on the board, but the USA reeled off eight more points to up the lead to 46-36 when Hillmon made two free throws at 3:34. Brazil scored seven points in the final 3:27 while Haley Jones (Stanford/Santa Cruz, Calif.), who had eight points in the quarter, and Cunane scored to make it 50-43 headed into the final 10 minutes.
“We need to play to the level that they were playing and not be so slow and not be so casual,” Howard said. “We had to be more physical.”
Brazil scored the first five points in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 50-48, but that was as close as it would get as the USA got four points from Cunane and an offensive rebound and put back from Ashley Owusu (Maryland/Woodbridge, Va.) to go ahead 56-48. Brazil continued to battle, but the USA outscored Brazil 15-12 down the stretch to secure the win, including sinking all four free throw attempts and a 3-pointer from Cunane at 39.4 that ended all hope for Brazil.
Notably, Staley was coaching against an incoming transfer for the University of South Carolina in Brazil’s Kamilla Silva.
All four semifinal teams, by virtue of their top-four finish at the AmeriCup, will advance to compete in one of four 2022 FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournaments, which will determine the 12 teams that will compete 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 complete the USA AmeriCup staff.