BANGKOK, Thailand – The United States reclaimed one of the few tiers of international basketball of which it was not reigning champion, grinding past Australia, 74-70 in overtime, at the FIBA Under-19 Women’s World Cup on Sunday.
Russia defeated the U.S. in the final of the tournament’s previous edition two years ago in Italy, and the U.S. has now won eight of the past 10 such titles.
If you think this was another easy win for the Americans, it wasn’t. The game featured nine ties and 17 lead changes. Isobel Anstey, averaging six points per game in the tournament, scored 12 in the opening quarter and assisted on Gemma Potter’s three that gave Australia a 23-22 lead to end the first. Similarly, Shyla Heal’s three sent the Australians to halftime ahead 40-39. The U.S. led 39-35 at the half of its 79-56 tournament-opening win over Australia a week earlier, so the question was if Australia could keep its composure in the second half.
The score was knotted again at 53-53 after the third quarter. U.S. guard Hailey Van Lith caught an inbounds pass and tied the game at 66-66 with 12.5 seconds on the clock, before Jazmin Shelley missed a game-winning shot from downtown at the buzzer. Shelley scored a game-high 18 points for Australia.
Fran Belibi’s shot from the post with 30 seconds left in overtime was the dagger for the U.S. and the final points of the game. Points in the paint were scarce for the U.S., which lost that edge 44-30 on Sunday after dominating Australia, 48-24, in the preliminary round game.
“It’s what makes it exciting,” U.S. coach Jeff Walz told High Post Hoops. “Everyone wants to see a game like this, back and forth. Both teams, I thought, played extremely well. They did a great job of breaking our press in the first half, we didn’t defend very well at all. We gave them momentum, and we had our chances. We got up four and five, then missed shots. Give them credit for coming back and getting the lead. It was just a good basketball game.”
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Spain defeated Belgium earlier in the day, 58-52, to win the bronze medal. Paige Bueckers, the UConn recruit who has one more year of high school in St. Louis Park, Minn., was named the MVP of the event. She was joined on the all-star team with Rhyne Howard of the U.S., Alexandra Fowler of Australia, Spain’s Lola Mendes, and Belgium’s Billie Massey. Bueckers scored 17 points, with eight rebounds and five assists in the final.
“I just know that I want to get better and be the best I can be,” Bueckers told High Post Hoops on how she stays grounded. “I’m nowhere near that, so I just need to keep pushing. I have played with USA Basketball for a couple of years now, and I have never had so many games this close. It (the MVP) means a lot to me because I worked super hard.”
Bueckers was one of six women who returned from last year’s Under-17 World Cup championship in Belarus. In addition, Queen Egbo of Baylor University became the fifth woman to win the NCAA title and the Under-19 World Cup in the same year, joining Kyra Elzy (Tennessee, 1997) and the trio of freshmen from UConn’s 2013 season: Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson.
Bueckers. Van Lith. Howard. Plus, the other nine members of the team. These are the names to remember, as they will be carrying USA Basketball for years to come.
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