Belgium proved to be a surprisingly tough test for Team USA, cutting the margin to single digits in the third quarter -- but the Americans took over down the stretch and earned the top seed coming out of Under-17 World Championship Pool A with an 80-50 win Tuesday in Amsterdam.
“They cut it to eight in the third quarter, and we were struggling to find our rhythm,” said USA coach Jill Rankin Schneider. “Linnae (Harper) got a couple of turnovers, a couple of rebounds, a big three-point play off of an offensive rebound. She had a big third quarter and helped us find some momentum. Other players fed off of that, and from that point on we were a totally different team with our effort and our execution."
Harper collected a U17 record seven steals to go along with seven points and four assists while Rebecca Greenwell had a game-high 17 points and Diamond DeShields added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“The first half we were lackadaisical,” said Harper about turning the game around. “Up to that point, they had outrebounded us and got every loose ball. So I think we tried to something different. In the third quarter, I just tried to bring a spark and do what the team wasn't doing, and that helped us expand our lead.”
In the first quarter Belguim raced out to a 9-2 lead after hitting a three pointer at the 8:28 mark. It would take five minutes for Team USA to tie the game, and then Kaela Davis hit a three to take the lead with 1:51 in the first. The U.S. managed to push ahead by as many as 12 points in the second quarter, but Belgium hung around and cut the lead back to single digits, actually outscoring Team USA 19-18 in the third quarter. But Harper sparked an 11-4 midway thru the third to turn things around and a 22-7 edge in the final period removed all doubt.
Despite the lethargic start, team USA was spectacular from three-point range, going 7-of-11 from behind the arc for a record 63.6 percent shooting . Greenwell, DeShields and Kaela Davis all connected from downtown.
Team USA, which is now 4-0, will face Mali on Wednesday in the last game of preliminary play but has already clinched first place in its pool.