USA U16 Women Clinch 2022 FIBA U17 World Cup Berth with 121-12 Quarterfinal Win Over Costa Rica
The USA Women’s U16 National Team (4-0), the FIBA No. 1-ranked youth program in the world, ran away with a 121-12 quarterfinal victory over No. 39-ranked Costa Rica (0-4) at the 2021 FIBA Americas U16 Championship on Friday morning in Leon, Mexico. The win not only advanced the U.S. squad to the medal semifinals, but it also earned USA Basketball a berth to the 2022 FIBA U17 World Cup as the top four finishing teams, all four quarterfinal winners, qualify for next summer’s competition.
Today’s remaining quarterfinal matchups include Canada (3-0) against Chile (1-2) at 3:30 p.m. (all times listed are EDT), Argentina (1-2) faces Brazil (1-2) at 6:30 p.m. and host Mexico (1-2) will play Puerto Rico (2-1) at 9:30 p.m.
In Aug. 28 semifinal games (6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.), the U.S. will play the winner of the Puerto Rico versus Mexico contest and the winners of the remaining two quarterfinal games will square off in the other semifinal. The semifinal winners will play in the gold medal game at 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 29, and the semifinals losers will meet in the bronze medal game at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 29.
“I want to commend Costa Rica for its ability to continue to fight and battle, and I really have a ton of respect in the way in which the game never became chippy,” said USA head coach Sue Phillips (Archbishop Mitty H.S., Calif.). “There was a wonderful exchange after the game between the players and the coaches in which sportsmanship and a level of appreciation of each other was shown. We’re in different places in our basketball journeys, in terms of where their program is and where ours is. Today, Costa Rica continued on its own path to try to get better. It was neat to experience that level of sportsmanship, and I was really touched by their kind words and well wishes.”
All 10 available players were on the scoreboard by halftime and finished with a balanced effort that saw everyone score between seven and 18 points.
“I thought it was great that we had six players in double figures and everyone else was one field goal away from being in double figures,” Phillips added. “And minutes-wise, we’re all around 20 minutes. So, I like the way the kids are getting that game experience and we’re also monitoring the mileage on their legs. It’s neat that the player of the game has been different every game, which has been really special as a coach to see.”
Maggie Mendelson (Fremont H.S./North Ogden, Utah) shot 9-of-16 from the field and finished with a game-high 18 points to go with eight rebounds. Her nine made field goals tied a USA U16 single-game record, which was accomplished seven times by six prior USA U16 athletes.
JuJu Watkins (Sierra Canyon High School/Los Angeles, Calif.) scored 17 points, grabbed eight boards, dished out seven assists and had five steals; Jadyn Donovan (Sidwell Friends School, D.C./Upper Marlboro, Md.) hit 7-of-8 from the field and notched a double-double with 16 points, a game-high 10 rebounds and four steals; Grace Slaughter (Grain Valley H.S./Grain Valley, Mo.) contributed 14 points; Breya Cunningham (La Jolla Country Day School/Chula Vista, Calif.) scored 12 points; and Olivia Olson (Benilde-St. Margaret's/New Hope, Minn.) chipped in 11 points and seven rebounds. Jada Williams (La Jolla Country Day/San Diego, Calif.), who scored nine points, tied Watkins with a game-high seven assists.
“If I was the other teams, I would be worried because you can’t guard 10 people,” said Donovan about how teams in the medal round will have difficulty scouting the balanced U.S. roster, which has seven players averaging double digits in points through four games. “You have to figure out a way to guard 12 different people because each person on our team can score 10 or more points a game. So, it’s a good thing for us.”
Opening on an 8-0 run, and after Costa Rica scored its first bucket, the USA expanded its lead to 21-2 midway through the first period and never looked back.
The U.S. outscored Costa Rica 36-7 in a first quarter that saw the squad from Central America connect on its three, first-half field goals. In the second quarter, after Costa Rica netted a free throw at 8:25 to make the score 42-8, the USA closed the first half on a 24-0 scoring spree.
By halftime, Donovan had 12 points, Mendelson scored 10 and Slaughter had nine. Donovan and Mendelson also led the USA’s rebounding effort with seven apiece as the U.S. outrebounded Costa Rica 36-12.
Further, at the game’s midway point, the USA defense held Costa Rica to an icy 11.1% (3-27 FGs) from the field and forced 18 turnovers. Fueled by its defense, the USA offense was shooting a red-hot 57.7% (30-52 FGs) from the field, including 67.5% (27-40 FGs) in the paint, and dished out 20 assists, had 11 steals and scored 26 points off of those 18 miscues.
“We were just being disciplined in our positions and trying to work on one play at a time to get better each play and not focus on the whole game in general,” said Mendelson about how the U.S. kept up its intensity. “We focused on what we needed to do in that moment.”
The USA scored 28 points, while holding Costa Rica scoreless in the third period and outscored its opponent 27-4 in the final frame.
“Coach instills in us all the time to always play hard,” said Donovan. “She says something like, ‘good teams after a win, they play even harder than the last.’ So, to just play hard the whole game was our motto and I know you could definitely see it.”
At the end of the game, the USA’s rebounding power expanded to 68-21 over Costa Rica, which was not surprising given its average 4-inch height advantage. The U.S. team’s average height is 6-foot-0, while Costa Rica’s is 5-foot-6.
“They worked so hard the entire game,” said Mendelson of the Costa Rica players. “They never gave up on the play. They never got chippy and they were good sports the entire game. It was super awesome for us to play them because they were having fun the whole time while we were having fun. So, it was just a fun competition.”
The 109-point victory was two points shy of tying the USA U16 women’s single-game record for margin of victory. The current record of 111 was a 128-17 win over Dominican Republic in 2009.
In all, the USA closed the game shooting 54.5% (54-99 FGs), including a blistering 64.8% (46-71 FGs) in the paint, while keeping Costa Rica at 11.1% (5-45 FGs) shooting.
In going 54-of-99 from the field, the U.S. eclipsed the former USA U16 records of 52 field goals made versus the Dominican Republic in 2009 and 95 field goals attempted versus Puerto Rico in 2011.
The U.S., which dished out a USA U16 record-tying 32 assists and notched 25 steals, scored 55 points off of 39 turnovers and outscored Costa Rica 24-0 on second-chance points, 18-0 points on the fast break and 64-0 points off the bench.
The 2011 USA U16 Team previously passed out 32 dimes against Venezuela.
“It’s always a challenge, in terms of getting them to stay focused on not only the big picture, but the immediate, tangible goals we set for ourselves for each quarter,” stated Phillips. “Whether that’s our offensive efficiency rating or limiting turnovers to two per quarter. Defensively, we have a certain goal total in terms of points. So, there’s some type of carrot there for players to focus on that’s measurable, tangible. I think that’s a really good way to set goals, because numbers don’t lie.”
KK Arnold (Germantown H.S./Germantown, Wis.) has a sprained left right ankle and Jaloni Cambridge (Ensworth H.S./Nashville, Tenn.) has a sprained left ankle and neither played against Costa Rica. Both are listed as day-to-day.
The USA’s assistant coaches are Tom McConnell (Indiana University Pennsylvania) and Sophia Witherspoon (Fort Pierce Central H.S., Fla.).
A biennial event launched in 2009 and open to athletes 16 years old or younger, the FIBA Americas U16 Championship features eight national teams from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean. The USA Basketball women claimed the gold medal in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2017 and 2019 and the bronze medal in 2015 currently own an all-time record of 34-1 in FIBA Americas U16 Championship action.