USA Picks Up 77-63 World Cup Win Over Previously Unbeaten China
USA Basketball, its full squad together at last, combined timely offense with a signature defense to hang on for a 77-63 victory over previously undefeated China in front of a clamorous crowd at the Sydney Superdome. The triumph secured the 25th straight FIBA World Cup victory for the USA, one short of its streak from 1994 to 2006, and extended a perfect World Cup record against China to 7-0. With the win, the USA became the first team to qualify for the quarterfinals, which begin Thursday after the conclusion of pool play.
A super-powered China offense that had averaged 102.5 points in its two victories committed 19 turnovers leading to 23 USA points. China was held to 41% shooting and managed just 28 points in the paint, one game after scoring 50 inside versus Bosnia and Herzegovina. Alyssa Thomas had five steals for the USA for a three-game total of 13.
The USA (3-0) has held its opponents to an average of 59.0 points.
“Our defense continues to be stellar,” said coach Cheryl Reeve. “That’s a team that’s averaging more than 100 points a game, we held them to 63. One quarter they had 22 so that was a third of their points in one quarter so I thought we were hard to play against and that’s been our identity.”
The USA was powered by the three members of the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces. Wilson (20 points, eight rebounds), Chelsea Gray (12 points, six rebounds) and Kelsey Plum (eight points) joined the team after celebrating their championship with the city of Las Vegas. The arrival of the trio made an immediate impact in the game.
“That’s something we’ve been waiting for, getting this roster fully together, obviously it was a little more of a challenge for us,” said Reeve.
In addition, Gray played a role on the sideline, lifting her voice when China was going on a run.
“When you talk about our roster, everyone is capable in any given moment to take over a game,” said Gray. “They threw some punches, basketball’s a game of runs and they had their run, they had 22 points in one quarter. So just having my voice and saying it’s okay they had their run, that’s what basketball is all about. I think that’s the biggest thing for me, just using my voice.”
The runs began from the opening tip as the USA opened with a 11-0 spurt, fueled by 3-pointers by Breanna Stewart, Gray and Jewell Loyd, respectively. China then answered with a 13-2 run of its own to tie it up at 13-13 with 3:01 left in the first quarter. The rest of the quarter was all USA, however, as a Plum layup began a 5-0 run to end the quarter, part of a larger 31-12 run to end the half, and sent the USA into the locker room with a 44-25 lead.
China’s current WNBA player for the New York Liberty, Han Xu, was held to two points in the first half. She heated up in the final 20 minutes, finishing with 12 points, eight less than her total against the USA four years ago. Li Meng led the way in scoring for China, scoring 21 points while Wang Siyu added 17.
Throughout the entire game, no matter what score showed up on the big screen above the court, the crowd supported China, glued to every moment of the action. Despite playing against a good portion of the crowd, it was an atmosphere that was to be appreciated, according to Gray.
“Yeah, the crowd came out to support,” said Gray. “You love that, you cherish that. This is an experience and down the road you talk about those moments and how there were a lot of fans when you were playing and it felt natural, it felt good. You feed off the energy from the crowd so I love that atmosphere.”
After a rest day for Group A on Sunday, the USA will meet Korea on Monday at 2:00 p.m. Sydney time/12:00 a.m. eastern time.
Owen Kaelble is a contributor to USAB.com as part of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI.