USA U16 Women Sprint Past Canada 118-45 for Golden Finish
-- USA’s JuJu Watkins Earns MVP Honors, Jada Williams Named to the All-Tournament Team --
Behind a USA U16 women’s record 28 points from tournament MVP JuJu Watkins (Sierra Canyon High School/Los Angeles, Calif.), the USA Women’s U16 National Team (6-0) knocked off previously unbeaten Canada (5-1) 118-45 in the 2021 FIBA Americas U16 Championship gold medal game on Sunday night in Leon, Mexico.
“Everybody has been levelheaded and confident,” said Watkins after winning gold. “We were confident in all the work we put in and all the hard hours and long nights in the gym. We just came in confident, poised and ready to take on Canada. Everyone here sacrificed a lot to be here, and we really had a lot of fun with it. Wearing those three letters across your chest means a lot more than just playing for the name on the back.”
Watkins, who scored 17 points in the first half, netted all six of her free throw attempts and nabbed six steals against Canada, averaged a tournament-best 20.0 points per game over the six games. Joining Watkins on the FIBA U16 Championship All-Star Five were the USA’s Jada Williams (La Jolla Country Day/San Diego, Calif.), who scored 10 points and dished out eight assists in the gold medal game, as well as Mexico’s Loriette Maciel, Brazil’s Taissa Nascimento Quieroz and Canada’s Cassandre Prosper.
“I’d like to congratulate Canada on a terrific tournament,” said USA head coach Sue Phillips (Archbishop Mitty H.S., Calif.), who also led the 2013 USA U16 team to gold. “We were fortunate to be on the winning side of things. We probably caught them on an off night. But credit to our team and the way they executed our defensive game plan. It was a focal point to focus on Prosper as well as Delaney Gibb. They’re both terrific players.
“JuJu plays like the No. 1 player in the country,” said Williams. “She is one of my favorite people of all time. She’s very special off the ball and on the ball. She’s a great teammate. It’s been a lot of fun to be her PG (point guard) and see her grow as a leader and as a teammate.
“Being on the All-Star Five, I wouldn’t be here without my teammates,” Williams added. “I wouldn’t have the assists or the buckets that I had without my teammates. I’m just very blessed.”
The USA Basketball women have now claimed the gold medal in six of the seven editions of the event (2009, 2011, 2013, 2017, 2019, 2021), as well as one bronze medal (2015), and close the 2021 tournament with an all-time record of 36-1 in FIBA Americas U16 Championship action. Additionally, the game marked the fifth time USA and Canada met in the U16 gold medal game, with the U.S. clinching the gold medal each time (2009, 2013, 2017, 2019 and 2021).
Host Mexico (3-3) won its first medal of any color in the history of the event with a 72-67 win over Argentina (2-4) in the bronze medal game.
Also scoring in double digits in the gold medal contest were Jaloni Cambridge (Ensworth H.S./Nashville, Tenn.), who scored 18 points; and Jadyn Donovan (Sidwell Friends School, D.C./Upper Marlboro, Md.) added 14 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Ahead 87-35 heading into the fourth period, Watkins checked back into the game with 21 points and had a put-back, a 3-pointer and a layup at the 6:15 mark, which pushed her to 28 points in 18 minutes of play and gave the USA a 100-37 lead. The previous USA U16 single-game scoring record was 26, held by Asia Durr, who set it in the 2013 gold medal game against Canada.
“I wasn’t even aware until coach pulled me aside; I was satisfied with my performance,” said Watkins of her 21 points in the first three quarters. “I knew that other people needed to get in and get more touches, get more points on the board.
“Jada knew that I was that close to breaking a record, she got me the ball. I had no idea. So, when you have great people around you like our coach and my teammates, you can be great. They inspired me to be great.”
“I pulled Jada and JuJu aside and said, ‘hey, let’s get JuJu some touches and see if we can make that happen,” said Phillips when asked if she put Watkins back into the game to go for the record. “And as I’ve said, JuJu’s instant offense and she got it. I’m very happy for her.”
Other USA U16 women’s records were rewritten by Watkins as well as by the U.S. team.
In addition to her 28 points, Watkins’s 10 field goals made, she hit 10-of-15 against Canada, topped the previous record of nine set by no less than seven different U.S. athletes. Watkins also set new high-water marks for USA players in U16 competitions with a scoring average of 20.0 points a game (Durr averaged 18.4 ppg. in 2013), and an average of 5.2 steals per game (Azzi Fudd averaged 3.4 spg. in 2017).
“To put JuJu’s performance in perspective, we were monitoring everyone’s minutes up until that last game and JuJu was instant offense,” said Phillips. “She’s just so gifted. She can score in a variety of ways. For her to be able to put up those types of numbers in limited numbers is simply remarkable.”
The 2021 USA U16 squad’s 718 points topped the 618 scored by the 2019 team, the 119.7 points per game better the 108.6 ppg. averaged by the 2009 team, and the 52.6% field goal percentage moved past the 49.2% shot by the team in 2009. Additionally, the 2021 U.S. squad went 113-of-170 from the free-throw line to set new marks in those two categories (the 2019 team made 67 and attempted 99 in six games) and the USA’s average of 25.0 steals per game bettered the 2017 team’s 20.4 spg.
Canada scored first at 9:45 and the USA trailed for all of seven seconds. It was the only time the red, white and blue was behind on the scoreboard the entire tournament -- seven out of 14,400 seconds played.
Watkins drew the U.S. even with a pair of free throws at 9:38 and both teams swapped scores for the next few possessions when Canada knotted the score 7-7 three minutes into the contest. A layup by Maggie Mendelson (Fremont H.S./North Ogden, Utah) at 6:39 put the USA in the lead for good. That layup also sparked an 11-0 run, during which Watkins scored six points, ending with a Watkins turnaround jumper midway through the first quarter that gave the USA a double-digit lead, 18-7. By the end of the first stanza, the U.S. remained up by double digits, 25-13.
The second quarter featured a 13-3 opening run by the USA as the defending champions increased their lead to 38-16 with 7:14 to play before halftime. Canada cut its deficit to 20 points, 41-21 at 5:44, but the USA outscored Canada 15-4 to close the first half with a 56-25 advantage.
“We knew that Canada was a really sound team, a very well coached team,” said Williams. “They had a better basketball IQ than any of the teams we’d played. So, we knew we had to come into this game playing together. We came out, we knew what we had to do, we knew we had to play together, and we knew what kind of defense we had to play.”
An 8-0 run to open the second half, which gave the USA a commanding 64-25 lead, virtually sealed the deal. Canada never again seriously threatened as the U.S. outscored its neighbors to the north 31-10 in the third period and 31-10 in the final stanza.
In classification games, Puerto Rico (4-2) finished in fifth place with a 68-49 win over Brazil (2-4) and Chile (2-4) edged out Costa Rica (0-6) 58-59 to claim seventh place.
The USA’s assistant coaches were 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.