MEXICO CITY — Trailing 18-14 after the first quarter, the 2018 USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team (6-0) stepped up its defensive pressure and ran away in the second half with an 84-60 …
MEXICO CITY — Trailing 18-14 after the first quarter, the 2018 USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team (6-0) stepped up its defensive pressure and ran away in the second half with an 84-60 victory over Canada (5-1) to earn the gold medal at the 2018 FIBA Americas U18 Championship on Aug. 7 at Juan de la Barrera gym in Mexico City, Mexico.
With the win, Team USA, which has won nine-straight gold medals at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship, is now 59-2 all-time in FIBA Americas U18 Championship play.
“We knew it was going to be a good ballgame,” said USA coach Jeff Walz, the Louisville women's head coach. “Canada is very well coached, they’ve got talented players and they made some adjustments. And then as the time went, we got comfortable with things, and we made the adjustments. I thought the players did an outstanding job of looking for each other, instead of looking to make things happen for themselves. They were trying to get their teammates involved.”
The USA’s Rhyne Howard (Kentucky/Cleveland, Tenn.) was named tournament MVP, while USA forward Maori Davenport (Charles Henderson H.S./Troy, Ala.) joined her on the all-tournament team, along with Canada’s Christina Morra, Argentina’s Florencia Natalia Chagas and Colombia’s Mayra Caicedo.
“I was shocked, but I felt good at the same time, because it meant people thought I was playing well enough to earn the honor,” said Howard, who will now fly to Italy to join her University of Kentucky team.
The former Bradley Central standout finished the title game with five points, four rebounds, four assists and a pair of blocks.
Starting five of the six games, Howard netted 51 points, cleared 28 caroms, dished out 18 assists, copped 11 steals and blocked eight shots.
Falling behind 18-14 after Canada capped off the first quarter with the last four points, an invigorated USA squad opened the second period with a 14-3 scoring spurt to take control 28-21 with 5:53 left before half.
Canada closed the gap to 28-25, but the Americans regrouped and outscored Canada 11-6 to close out the second quarter on top 39-31.
Any comeback hope for Canada was squashed in the third quarter, as the USA opened the period quarter with an 18-5 run and outscored Canada 25-9 overall in the quarter to lead 64-40 heading into the final period.
Canada matched the USA in the final quarter as both teams tallied 20 points, but it mattered little as the USA had the gold medal victory.
NaLyssa Smith (Baylor/Converse, Texas) led the USA with 18 points and six rebounds; Christyn Williams (Connecticut/Little Rock, Ark.) added 11 points, five rebounds and five assists; Nazahrah Hillmon-Baker (Michigan/Cleveland, Ohio) contributed 10 points and six boards; and Ashley Joens (Iowa State/Iowa City, Iowa) finished 10 points.
“That was so exciting,” said Anaya Peoples (Schlarman H.S./Danville, Ill.). “We came out there with so much energy. We all knew we wanted a gold medal, and it was a matter of just going out there and fighting for it, and that’s exactly what we did. So, I’m just so proud of everybody. It’s a great feeling.”
Overall, the USA recorded 22 assists, forced 19 turnovers, which it converted into 22 points, and got 46 points off its bench.
“I’ve seen growth, and I’ve seen them become one,” Walz said of his squad. “We talked about it all the time – it has to come to a point where you are playing for each other. I really believe the last few days, they started to buy into that. And, if somebody were to get beat, instead of worrying about what the coaches were going to say, they were worried about letting their teammates down, and I thought that was really what brought us together.”
In the bronze medal game, Argentina (4-2) topped Colombia (3-3) 62-52. By virtue of their top four finishes, the USA, Argentina (3-2), Canada and Colombia all qualified for next summer’s 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup. In the classification finals, Puerto Rico (2-3) - Chile (1-4) for fifth place, and Mexico (2-4) defeated El Salvador (0-6) for seventh place.
— Banner Assistant Sports Editor Joe Cannon contributed to this story.
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