BANGKOK, Thailand – It might sound eerily familiar to last year’s senior World Cup, but the U.S. ran away from Belgium on Saturday, 67-59, to set up a final with Australia in the FIBA Under-19 gold medal game. The Australians defeated Spain, 64-55, in the earlier semifinal.
The U.S. also defeated Belgium and Australia knocked off Spain in the semifinals before the Americans won the championship in Tenerife, Spain, last autumn.
Trying to make their own names, the Under-19 group displayed mental toughness after 41-26 lead evaporated and Belgium took the lead on a free throw, 59-58, with three minutes remaining. An 8-1 run concluded the game.
“We weren’t able to press like we had been, so all of a sudden it turned into a half-court game,” U.S. coach Jeff Walz told High Post Hoops. “Our advantage was trying to get it inside, but in that first half, we missed seven or eight layups. It’s a game that they can all learn from, and hopefully, tomorrow, we can play much better. I’m proud of the overall effort, they kept their composure, and they made a nice little run with three minutes to go.”
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Rhyne Howard, the SEC Freshman of the Year for the Kentucky Wildcats, led the U.S. with 14 points, and she is also leading the team in scoring during this competition. She won a gold medal in last year’s FIBA Americas Under-18 Championships in Mexico City.
“I feel great knowing that we did everything we were supposed to do to get back to compete for a gold medal,” Howard told High Post Hoops. “We just need to stay focused and prepared. There are only four of us who have already played in college, so we need to set an example. I’ve already played for Jeff, so I know what he wants and what is expected, so I just need to keep the younger girls in a positive direction.”
The U.S. and Australia actually faced each other to open group play on July 20, with the U.S. winning 79-56. Australia went on to win its next five games, by at least nine points. There is no clear, standout player like Liz Cambage on this Australian team. Gemma Potter leads the team with 10 points per game, while Alexandra Fowler and Isabelle Bourne average nine points. It was Shyla Heal who led the team with 14 against Spain in the semifinal.
The two super powers haven’t met in the final of an Under-19 World Cup since 1997 at Brazil, when an American team boasting Tamika Catchings, Semeka Randall, Kristen Clement, and Jackie Stiles edged an Australian team with Lauren Jackson in the lineup. The U.S. lost to Russia in the championship two years ago in Italy. Prior to that, it won six-consecutive titles in the event. The 1997 silver is Australia’s best result.
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