MEXICO CITY — Allowing Argentina to shoot just 22.8 percent from the field (13-57 FGs), the 2018 USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team let its defense lead the way in an 87-42 win to open its …
MEXICO CITY — Allowing Argentina to shoot just 22.8 percent from the field (13-57 FGs), the 2018 USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team let its defense lead the way in an 87-42 win to open its play in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship Wednesday at Juan de la Barrera gym in Mexico City.
The USA forced 30 turnovers, which it converted into 26 points, while it shot a sizzling 60 percent from the field (36-60 FGs) on the offensive end.
“It was great to be able to get out there and compete,” said USA head coach Jeff Walz of Louisville University. “The players were excited. We were running around at times, playing hard, but not real smart at all times, but their effort was great. So, if we can continue to clean some things up, both offensively and defensively and play with that type of intensity, good things can happen.”
Team USA, which was in control from start to finish, got 13 points and four assists from Aijha Blackwell (Whitfield School/Berkeley, Mo.); 13 points and six rebounds from NaLyssa Smith (Baylor/Converse, Texas); a game-high five assists from Jenna Brown (Stanford/Smyrna, Ga.); and a game-best nine rebounds from Sedona Prince (Texas/Liberty Hill, Texas).
Former Bradley Central standout and Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year Rhyne Howard helped out with a half dozen points. The University of Kentucky signee also grabbed a pair of rebounds, got an assist and a steal, and had no turnovers in 17 minutes of play.
“As a team we played hard,” Blackwell said. “We kept each other motivated, and we kept pushing. I don’t think we gave up on any plays. We just played really hard throughout the entire game.”
Team USA’s first eight baskets were scored by eight different players, which helped it jump ahead 16-4 after a 10-0 run early in the game, and the USA led 18-8 at the first break.
In the second quarter, the USA held Argentina scoreless for a 6:30 stretch while it compiled 15 unanswered points to go ahead 35-11. After each team scored twice more, the USA led 38-15 at halftime.
Although Argentina managed to break into double-digit scoring in the second and third quarters, the USA was not slowed down – outscoring Argentina 23-12 in the third and 26-15 in the fourth to secure the 87-42 win.
The USA also compiled a major advantage on the glass – collecting 53 rebounds to Argentina’s 27 – it turned the ball over 27 times and shot just 42.9 percent from the free throw line (12-28 FTs).
“We all executed,” Smith said. “We just have to cut back on the turnovers and make sure we are putting the ball in the basket more.”
The USA will take on Chile at 3 this afternoon, before wrapping up its preliminary round games against Puerto Rico at 7:30 Friday evening. Both games will be available to watch live online at Facebook.com/USABasketball.
“I think our chemistry is definitely getting there,” Brown said. “We haven’t played a ton of games together yet; we’ve only been together for about two weeks, but it was feeling good, especially in the second half.”
In Wednesday’s other games, Puerto Rico (1-0) beat Chile (0-1) 74-69, and Canada (1-0) topped Colombia (0-1) 73-49 while in the late game, host Mexico (1-0) dominated El Salvador (0-1) 88-48.
— Banner Assistant Sports Editor Joe Cannon contributed to this story.
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