PANEVEZYS, Lithuania – The 2013 USA U19 World Championship Team (3-0) did not waste much time in establishing control over Mali (0-3), sprinting to a 30-5 opening run before cruising in for a 103-26 victory at the FIBA U19 World Championship on Saturday night in Panevezys, Lithuania. All 11 available players put points on the board and six finished in double digits, including a game-high of 17 from Breanna Stewart (Connecticut / North Syracuse, N.Y.).
Linnae Harper (Whitney Young H.S. / Chicago, Ill.), Alexis Jones (Duke / Irving, Texas), Brianna Turner (Manvel H.S. / Pearland, Texas) and A’ja Wilson (Heathwood Hall H.S / Hopkins, S.C.) had 11 points apiece; while Bashaara Graves (Tennessee / Clarksville, Tenn.) posted a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Wilson finished with a double-double for the second straight night as she also hauled in 12 boards. Further, Gabby Green (St. Mary’s College H.S. / Oakland, Calif.) dished out a game-high seven assists to go with eight assists and Harper picked off a game-best seven steals.
Duke’s Jones pulled down three rebounds, three assists, had one steal and one blocked shot in a team-high 23 minutes. In three pool play games, Jones has averaged 10.0 points, a team-high 3.7 assists, 2.3 steals and hit 57.9 percent of her field goals.
“To Mali’s credit, they played really, really hard,” said USA U19 and University of Miami head coach Katie Meier. “They disrupted us a little bit and turned us over in the last five minutes of the game. The stats don’t look as nice as we wanted them to. Overall if you were at the game I think you saw a team that was committed to each other, more than happy to share the basketball and really listening to the coaches. They are doing everything we need from them right now.”
The USA advances to the second round as the top seed in the group and will meet up with Netherlands (1-2) on July 22 (1:15 p.m. EDT), followed by Canada (2-1) on July 23 (1:15 p.m. EDT) and currently also unbeaten France (3-0) on July 24 (1:15 p.m. EDT). Upon the conclusion of the second round, the top four finishing teams in each group will advance to the Quarterfinals, which will be played on July 26. The semifinals will be held on July 27 and the finals on July 28.
Tonight’s game was a mismatch from the start. Mali’s team on average is 5 feet 8 inches tall, while the USA has a 6-foot average height. Further, Mali is ranked 20th in FIBA’s world rankings for female youth basketball programs with 76.6 points, while the USA is at the top of the women’s youth charts with 540 points. However, that didn’t deter the Malians from fighting for points and rebounds the entire game.
Mali held a brief 45-second lead early in the game, 3-2. But a pair of put-backs by Bashaara Graves bookended two from the line from Harper to edge the USA out in front 7-3 at 7:10.
From there, the red, white and blue simply dominated.
Receiving points from eight different players in a 23-0 scoring burst, including five apiece from Stewart and Morgan Tuck (Connecticut / Bolingbrook, Ill.), who scored nine points on the night, the American women were suddenly up 30-5 with just over a minute left in the first quarter. By the end of the stanza the lead was 35-6.
In the first quarter alone, the USA shot 68.2 percent (15-22 FGs) from the field, dished out eight assists, had five steals, scored 18 points off of 10 Mali turnovers and outscored its opponent 24-0 in the paint.
After the game was well in hand, the U.S. began practicing different plays.
“We were working on changing our defenses on the fly,” said Stewart. “We did that a lot. And really having people out there being vocal about it, because we’re not going to be able to hear coach Meier all the time and someone’s going to have to take charge and call the defense.”
“We learned a play earlier in shoot-around and we wanted to practice that and also just execute our plays well,” added Bashaara Graves.
Outscoring Mali 26-4 in the second quarter, the U.S. headed to the locker room with a commanding 61-10 advantage.
The second half was more of the same as the Americans outscored Mali 25-7 in the third quarter and 17-9 in the fourth.
“As the game went on they got more physical and more intense,” said Plum. “That’s just a huge respect level for your opponent. That says a lot about your character when you don’t give up, even when you get stuffed. They kept playing harder and harder as the game went on. So, I have a lot of respect for them.”
The USA finished the game shooting 50.6 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point, while holding Mali to 21.2 percent overall and just 7.7 from beyond the arc. Further, the U.S. owned a 64-26 rebounding margin, scored 35 points off of 25 turnovers, outscored Mali 62-14 in the paint, 20-2 on second chances, 20-2 on the fast break and 45-10 off the bench.
“I think everybody’s played really good so far,” said Stewart when asked to reflect on the first three games. “We had some tough games against China. We didn’t know what to expect really from Lithuania or Mali. I think just playing when you’re not sure how the other team is going to be, I think it really helps, because that’s how it is the majority of the tournament. We don’t know everything about these teams.”
Moriah Jefferson (Connecticut / Glenn Heights, Texas) sprained her left thumb in the USA’s July 19 game against China, did not play against Mali and is listed as day to day.
In other games, Netherlands (1-2) picked up its first with an 84-51 defeat of Senegal (0-3), France (3-0) remained perfect after a 65-60 win over Canada (2-1), China (2-1) finished second in Group D after clipping host Lithuania (1-2) 78-65, Brazil (3-0) defeated Serbia (1-2) 80-66, Russia (2-1) was victorious over South Korea (0-3) 89-78, Japan (1-2) downed Argentina 76-68, while Spain (3-0) took the top spot in their group with an 81-63 victory over Australia (2-1).
The top three finishing teams from each first-round group advance to the second round, held July 22-24. Advancing out of Group A are Brazil, Russia and Serbia; Group B advances Australia, Spain and Japan; from Group C are Canada, France and Netherlands; while in addition to the USA, advancing out of Group D are China and Lithuania. Argentina, Mali, Senegal and South Korea will compete in round-robin classification games for 13th-16th places.
The 12 nations qualifying for the second round have been divided into Group E, comprised of the top three teams from Groups A and B; and Group F, comprised of the top three teams from Groups C and D. Each team will play the three new teams in its new group, with all results of games played in the preliminary round carrying over to determine the second-round standings.
Teams finishing in first through fourth places in the second round will qualify for the quarterfinals, with the opportunity to advance to the semifinals and finals. The medal round will be played in Klaipeda, with the quarterfinals held on July 26, semifinals slated for July 27 and the gold medal game on July 28.
Assisting Meier and the U19 squad are collegiate head coaches Nikki Caldwell of Louisiana State University and Kelly Graves of Gonzaga University.
Originally known as the FIBA Junior World Championship, the tournament was held every four years starting in 1985. FIBA changed its calendar in 2006 and now conducts the U19 World Championship every other year. USA women’s teams are now 60-12 in the U19/Junior World Championships, capturing a fourth-consecutive gold medal with an 8-1 record most recently in 2011. The U.S. has captured five of the last six U19/Junior World Championship gold medals and boasts a 48-4 record over that span, to include the 3-0 slate at the 2013 U19 Worlds.