USA Opens Women's World Cup with 87-72 Win Over Belgium
Fueled by 27 points off of 25 Belgium turnovers and a near triple-double from Alyssa Thomas, USA Basketball outlasted Belgium 87-72 in its first game at the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup in Sydney.
Thomas, who had joined the team in Sydney just one day earlier, looked well rested on the court despite the nearly 15-hour connecting flight. She racked up 14 points on 60% shooting from the field and grabbed seven rebounds, while providing nine assists and adding two steals.
“It’s kind of a whirlwind, but I’m excited to be a part of this,” said Thomas. “I’ve waited a long time.”
Thomas and teammate Brionna Jones, who arrived at the same time, only had a quick walkthrough yesterday to learn the game plan for today. But the performance of Thomas was not a surprise to coach Cheryl Reeve.
“Honestly this what I expected Alyssa to do, it’s what she does,” said Reeve. “She’s just a competitor, she knows how to play. She played multiple positions for us today.”
Forward Breanna Stewart led all scorers with 22 points, one less than her World Cup high, with three steals and three blocked shots. Guard Jewell Loyd added 14 points.
The USA got off to a quick start, opening the game with a 12-0 run, only to watch Belgium respond with a 10-0 run of its own. However, with a balanced scoring attack from Stewart and Loyd, the Americans went into the locker room with a 48-39 halftime lead. Stewart and Loyd combined for 19 first half points.
Belgium was hot behind the arc in the first 20 minutes, making seven of its total of 11 3-pointers in the first half, but the USA was able to keep the Belgian Cats at arm’s length by playing fast and continuing to force turnovers. Belgium converted just four 3-pointers after halftime.
“The problem is the defensive intensity of (the) USA, with a lot of pressure that caused lost balls and stupid turnovers,” said Belgium coach Valery Demory.
The defense limited Belgium forward Emma Meesseman four points on 2-of-6 shooting. Meesseman averaged 18.5 points in the 2018 World Cup and 26.8 points in Tokyo for the Summer Olympics last year. Only two Belgium players scored in double figures, with point guard Julie Vanloo scoring 13 points on three 3-pointers and teammate Julie Allemand earning 10 points of her own.
“We expected it would be a little bit rough in terms of our (team) chemistry, but overall we have continued that good chemistry on the defensive side, and that’s where I thought we were really good,” said Reeve.
USA Basketball was short three players for today’s game, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and A’ja Wilson, all members of the recently crowned WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces. The championship parade was held on Tuesday and the three began their trip to Australia today.
While the addition of the trio will be welcome to Reeve, the coach is confident with the group that began the tournament.
“When they get here, we’ll incorporate them,” she said. “Otherwise, we’re happy with what we’re doing. This is a group that’s worked really hard and we’ve added players along the way. What hasn’t changed is again how hard we’re playing, the pace that we’re playing with is really good so we’ll hold the fort down until we get a complete roster.”
Owen Kaelble is a contributor to USAB.com as part of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI.