The U.S. teens extended their FIBA Americas U16 winning streak to 15, and won their third straight gold medal by beating Canada 82-48 -- but despite the lopsided score, this was not the unimpeded romp to victory to which the Americans had become accustomed in Cancun, Mexico.
Canada’s Lauren Yearwood drew first blood in this contest, and the team from the far north gave as good as it got throughout a first period marked by turnovers and cold shooting from both sides. After 10 minutes, the score stood knotted at 9-9, and it looked like the U.S. would have a real fight on its hands.
The second quarter conformed to the same pattern for the first four minutes, until Katie Samuelson, who shot an amazing perfect eight-of-eight from beyond the arc, took a feed from Crystal Dangerfield and ignited a 7-0 American spurt with one of those three-pointers. Asia Durr, who led all scorers with 26 points – plus six boards, eight steals and four assists – followed up Samuelson’s trey with two buckets and with the score now 22-14 in the Americans’ favor, it looked like Team USA was about to be off to the races.
But with 4:17 remaining in the first half, Yearwood broke a Canadian scoring drought that had endured since the 9:15 mark of the second quarter. The Canadian defense battened down, but no more so than that of the United States. It was U.S. fouls that allowed Canada, which earned its next six points at the charity stripe, back into the ball game. With just over two minutes to go in the half, Hailey Brown pulled Canada to within two (24-22) with a pair from the line, and a little less than a minute later, Brown took an assist from Jaelyne Kirkpatrick and knocked it down to tie the score at 24 apiece.
Dangerfield answered on the next possession with a trey for Team USA to put the Americans back on top, put Kirkpatrick netted one of a pair from the penalty line and, with 19 seconds remaining, Yearwood knocked down the final basket of the half to send the teams to the locker room with the score tied at 27 apiece.
It must have been one heck of a pep talk in the U.S. locker room, because Team USA came alive in the third quarter. Lauren Cox swatted away a Kirkpatrick attempt, and though Kirkpatrick rebounded her own miss, she made the mistake of not taking it right back up. Durr picked off the outlet pass, and fired it out to Samuelson, who got the party started with another of her three-point daggers. Canada continued to battle, with Bridget Charleton and Yearwood bookending a bucket from Cox to make the score 32-31 in favor of the Americans, but Yearwood’s basket at the 8:57 mark would be Canada’s last field goal of the period.
In a third-quarter performance so impressive it brought her the championship's Most Oustanding Player honors, Durr broke the stalemate three minutes in with a solo 12-0 run that put Team USA up, 44-31, with a little less than six minutes to go. Between her buckets, Durr made the Canadians pay for every mistake in ball handling, as six of her eight takeaways came in the third quarter, as did both of Durr’s three-pointers on the day.
Meanwhile, Cox, who finished with a near triple double of 10 points, 12 boards, and nine blocks, was throwing a block party at the opposite end of the floor, swatting away five Canadian shots in the third quarter alone, while hoovering up nearly every errant Canadian attempt. So frustrating did the situation become for Canada that midway through the mayhem, Kirkpatrick, the Canadian team captain who coughed up seven turnovers in the medal game, was whistled for an “unsportsmanlike foul,” FIBA’s equivalent of the technical, leading Canadian coach Caroline Clark to call a timeout to allow her troops to regain their composure.
Sabrina Ionescu got the rest of the Americans back into the act on the offensive end, Cox chipped in a basket, and Samuelson netted two more three-balls, and by the time the dust settled on the third quarter, the U.S. had the game firmly in hand, 58-34.
The United States padded the margin, adding 24 points to their tally in the fourth period, and though the Canadian reserves managed to get some traction late in the game, it was simply too little, too late.
In addition to Durr’s 26 points, Samuelson’s 24, and Cox’s 10, Dangerfield contributed eight points and four boards for the Americans and Ionescu chipped in six.
Yearwood finished with a team-high 15 points, plus eight boards and two blocks, for Canada, but Brown was the only other Canadian player to attain double figures, with 12 points off the bench.
The three difference-makers in the game were turnovers, rebounding and the three-point hailstorm delivered by the U.S. sharpshooters. Despite early jitters, Team USA finished the game with just nine turnovers, to Canada’s 24, and the Americans exacted a heavy price for those mistakes, converting 19 points off turnovers to just two for Canada. Beyond Cox’s tour de force, the U.S. dominated the backboards, 44-32, with a 30-23 margin of superiority on the offensive glass (though the Americans failed to take as much advantage from put-backs, gleaning just 10 second-chance points to Canada’s eight.
Durr and Dangerfield each added a pair of three-pointers to Samuelson’s eight-trey explosion (ironically, though perfect from three-point range, Samuelson went 0-6 from inside the arc in this game), allowing Team USA to finish with 12 three-pointers in 25 attempts (48 percent), while Canada netted just three-of-nine from downtown, a 27-point differential that would have ensured victory in and of itself. Overall, though neither team shot the ball impressively from the floor – the U.S. netted 31-73 (42 percent) to Canada’s 18-60 (30 percent) – and both teams posed persistent and aggressive defenses for a game at the high school level, the Americans were simply better, on both sides of the ball, particularly in the second half.
This is only the third time FIBA has sponsored an Americas U16 championship, and Team USA has won every game it has played, and all three gold medals. The Americans, as well as Canada, qualified for the U16 World Championship in 2014, as did Brazil and Mexico.
|Katie Samuelson contributed 24 points to the U.S. cause with perfect, 8-8 shooting from beyond the arc. (Photo by FIBA Americas)|
In Sunday's other medal game, Brazil disappointed the host country, taking the bronze with a 70-56 win over Mexico. Wytalla Motta led all scorers with 18 points, plus four rebounds, for Brazil; Fabiola Alexandrino added 13 points and six boards; and Mariane de Carvalho came off the bench for 15 points, four rebounds and three steals for the victors.
Nayeli Ortiz led the way with 12 points and five rebounds for Mexico. Carlota Martin was the home team’s only other double-digit scorer, with 10 points, four boards and two assists off the bench, while Cinthya Rivas pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds. Despite the disappointment of finishing out of the medals, Mexico made history, qualifying for the FIBA U17 World Championships for the first time.
In the classification games, Puerto Rico defeated Venezuela, 84-60, to finish in fifth place, while Argentina beat Costa Rica, 58-29, to finish seventh and eighth, respectively.