The road to gold took a turn the U-18 National Team didn’t expect on Sunday as Brazil jumped out to a double-digit lead in the gold medal game of the FIBA Americas Championship in Puerto Rico.
Brazil opened the contest with a 9-0 run holding the U.S. scoreless until the 6:15 mark, and finishing off the first quarter with a 16-7 lead. Team USA, who had never trailed for more than a minute or by more than three points in the entire tournament, continued to struggle in the second quarter when Brazil went up by 11 points.
“We were shooting at such a high percentage this whole tournament and you just didn’t know if we could keep that up. Brazil came at us very physically and put us in a hole,” said USA head coach Katie Meier.
Team USA finally started to connect midway through the second quarter when Bashaara Graves knocked down a basket at the 9:01 mark to start a 19-0 run by the Americans. Graves hit a free throw at with 4:15 in the second to give the USA its first lead of the game and helped boost the North Americans to a slight 29-24 advantage at the half.
After some halftime adjustments, Team USA managed to outscore Brazil 16-7 in the third quarter, stretching the lead to 14 points and an eventual, harder than it looked, 71-47 victory.
“I think defense was a key, because at the beginning our shots weren’t falling,” said Graves, who had 10 points and 11 rebounds in the come-from-behind win. “We just knew that we could come back on steals and rebounds, and we’d get back going on offense.”
Graves was one of four players in double figures. Morgan Tuck had 15 points and 11 rebounds, Breanna Stewart 13 points and 10 rebounds and Michaela Mabrey added 13 points, including four three-pointers. The win marks the seventh gold medal for the USA at the U18 FIBA Americas Championship and their ninth medal overall since the event started in 1988.
“It feels really great,” said Tuck about winning gold. “It’s always great to win games, but to come out here and win a gold medal, it’s unbelievable.”
Stewart, who is now a four-time gold medalist in various competitions, was named the MVP of the tournament.
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