USA and China to Clash in Group Phase at 2022 FIBA Women's World Cup
The USA and China will face off in a meeting of undefeated teams in Sydney on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Sydney time/12:30 a.m. ET with more than just a victory at the World Cup on the line.
The USA enters the Group A matchup having won 24 consecutive World Cup games, the longest streak since winning 26 from 1994 through 2006. China is looking to improve to 3-0 in Australia while also hoping to reach the final for the first time in 28 years.
Sydney has treated both nations well so far, with the U.S. holding off Belgium 87-72 on the first day of the tournament and cruising to a 106-42 over Puerto Rico. China was able to find success in a 107-44 victory over Korea before defeating Bosnia and Herzegovina, 98-51.
The USA has a record of 6-0 against China in the World Cup, winning by an average of 23.5 points. The most recent victory, a 100-88 decision in the 2018 tournament, was the second-closest in the series.
For the USA, the name of the game has been its defense. Through two games the U.S. has limited its opponents to 40-for-124 shooting (32.2%). The USA has forced 46 turnovers, scoring 55 points off the giveaways and have only given up a combined 30 points in the paint. Alyssa Thomas has played a large individual role, nabbing eight steals in the two games. In the contest against Puerto Rico alone, the USA had 13 steals overall.
USA coach Cheryl Reeve acknowledged in a press conference after the Puerto Rico game that defense has been important to the team’s identity.
“The player to my right (Thomas) has been really vital to establishing that identity,” said Reeve. “So, we did it in February, we had perimeter players that would be up in their space and get through screens quickly. They have some length. We talk everyday about being hard to play against and just not giving people space to do simple things and so they’ve really bought into that.”
Thomas has also played a role in upstarting the team’s offense, scoring 14 points against Belgium followed by 11 against Puerto Rico. The veteran Breanna Stewart leads the team in points scored through two games with 33, but the scoring has overall been a balanced affair. Against Puerto Rico, there were six players in double figures by the end of 40 minutes.
At the end of the day, however, the defense has still been the calling card. And in fact has led to some offense as well.
“Part of the game plan is having me switch out which I love,” said Thomas. “I love to disrupt, I love to cause havoc. So, it’s fun being on a team that loves to play defense and it really just fuels our offense.”
For China, defense is also important to its game plan. China has outrebounded its opponents, 104-60, in the two games. China has scored 42 points from opponent turnovers and its defense has led to 39 fast break points, compared to only eight combined for Korea and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“I believe our players will learn a lot from tomorrow’s game,” China coach Zheng Wei said Friday. “I believe we will prepare well for tomorrow’s game.”
China’s offense is led by current New York Liberty center Han Xu, who has combined for 31 points in the two games with 22 rebounds. The longest-tenured player on the team, Li Meng, is also contributing to the team’s performance, matching Han with 31 points as well and 16 rebounds.
The USA will receive some reinforcements for the game on Saturday. The final three players on the roster, Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray and A’ja Wilson will be ready to take the hardcourt after being crowned WNBA champions with the Las Vegas Aces; a perfect time to arrive according to Reeve.
“We’ll get some time in the morning before we play against a really good China team tomorrow so the depth will be helpful,” Reeve said.
Owen Kaelble is a contributor to USAB.com as part of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI.