USA Women’s Basketball hold off Italy to start Universiade 1-0

USA Women’s Basketball hold off Italy to start Universiade 1-0

Courtesy USA Basketball

Gwangju, Korea, July 5, 2015 –The USA Basketball Women’s World University Games team (1-0) overcame a bit of a sluggish start Sunday morning at Dongkang College to open 2015 World University Games play with a win over Italy (0-1) in Group C play, 80-68, on Sunday night in Gwangju, South Korea.

The United States was able to overcome a high number of turnovers (33) in the opener because it pounded Italy inside, outscoring the adversary 52-20 in the paint. The victors also scored 21 second-chance points on the strength of 23 offensive rebounds. USA won the battle on the boards overwhelmingly Sunday, 51-27.

“I felt like we did a lot of good things and showed some other things we can build on,” said USA head coachJoe McKeown (Northwestern) “We have to clean up our turnovers, but I thought defensively in the second, third and most of the fourth quarter, we did a much better job of defending the 3 and not letting them get to the rim. We talked better. We’re still learning how to space the floor, but our quickness took over and our offensive rebounding looked phenomenal. We saw a lot of positive things right there.”

USA co-captain Erica McCall (Stanford/Bakersfield, Calif.) poured in 22 points while grabbing a game-high 18 caroms in the victory. Aerial Powers (Michigan State/Detroit, Mich.) also added a game-high 22 points, including 12 during a sizable 15-3 second-quarter run that put her team on top for good.

Upon opening up an 8-3 lead after McCall scored back-to-back baskets in the first quarter, the Italians started converting from downtown. The opponents drained a handful of 3-pointers during a 14-4 run to flip the advantage to their favor. The United States was able to cut the deficit to a point at the end of one, however, when co-captain Chanise Jenkins (DePaul/Chicago, Ill.) drove hard to the hoop, scored and earned a free throw, which she converted to make it 21-20, Italy, with less than a second to play in the period.

McCall helped to snatch the lead back for the USA early in the second period after she netted the old-fashioned 3-point play to make the score 27-26 in her team’s favor. The teams went back and forth for a few possessions when Powers began to really push the pace. Powers scored 12 quick points during a 15-3 run that gave her team the lead, and put Italy behind for good. The Americans scored a game-high 29 points during the second stanza as the USA sustained a nine-point cushion at the break, 49-40.

“The game had been going back and forth, back and forth, and sometimes when it’s like that, you need someone to step up and give the team that spurt,” said Powers. “This time I was that player, but we have great players all over our team. Everybody will step up and do their part and that’s pretty much what happened today.”

When the teams returned to the floor to begin the third quarter, the United States continued to play the role of the aggressor. Mercedes Russell (Tennessee/Springfield, Ore.) got in on the act as she scored off a feed from Powers to push the lead to 11 at 53-42. The Italians later got to within six, but McCall corralled one of her 10 offensive rebounds and put it back to earn a 62-54 lead after three.

The fourth quarter was point guard Jordan Canada’s (UCLA/Los Angeles, Calif.) time to shine. Though she was contributing in other ways through the first 30 minutes, the 5-foot-6 guard was held out of the scoring column thanks in large part to the aggressive Italian defense. That changed in the final 10 minutes as she scored all nine of her points, including seven from the charity stripe. One final surge by Italy pulled the Europeans to within six points with under three minutes to go, but Canada continued to penetrate and get to the line. She sank two free throws to grow the lead back to 75-67, and then the UCLA Bruin stole the ball and fed it ahead to McCall who was able to convert an easy deuce. The Americans outscored the Italians 5-1 the rest of the way to seal its first victory at the World University Games.

In addition to Powers and McCall, who each scored a game-high 22 points, both Russell and Canada were just shy of double figures with nine apiece. Powers had six offensive rebounds, while Russell added four total rebounds and a block in 25 minutes.  Canada led all players with seven assists and six steals. She also contributed four rebounds from her guard position.

Afterward, McCall talked about the importance of her work on the offensive glass. “Those were really important because they kept us motivated to keep pushing even though we weren’t making shots,” she said. “Those offensive rebounds really boosted our energy and helped us a ton.”

The USA continues Group C play against China on Monday, July 6. The game against the Chinese will be played at 5:30 p.m. local time (4:30 a.m. EDT) and it will be televised live in the United States on ESPNU. Group play concludes on Tuesday with a contest against the Czech Republic (July 6 @ 11 pm. EDT).

The quarterfinals will be played on July 9, the semifinals are on July 11, the bronze medal game is on July 12 and the gold medal game is set for July 13.

McKeown is assisted by collegiate head coaches Holly Warlick from the University of Tennessee andTanya Warren from the University of Northern Iowa.

Players eligible for the 2015 USA World University Games teams must be U.S. citizens who currently are enrolled as full-time college students with remaining eligibility for the 2015-16 school year.

Held every other year, the World University Games is organized by the International University Sports Federation (FISU). The WUGs are a multi-sport competition open to men and women who are between the ages of 17 and 24 (born between 1/1/88 and 12/31/98), who are enrolled as a full-time college student with remaining eligibility for the 2015-16 school year.

USA Basketball women’s teams have participated in 17 World University Games and collected a record nine golds, six silvers and one bronze medal. Since 1973, the first year the USA women competed in the World University Games, USA women’s teams have compiled a 102-15 as of Sunday. The USA has won gold medals in the past five WUGs in which it has competed (2001, 2005, 2009, 2011, 2013).

Notable among the list of USA WUG alumni are 2012 Olympic gold medalists Seimone Augustus, Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles and Maya Moore. Additionally, Olympians Carol Blazejowski, Ruthie Bolton, Anne Donovan, Pat Head (Summitt), Lisa Leslie, Katrina McClain, Suzie McConnell (Serio), Ann Meyers (Drysdale), DeLisha Milton-Jones, Cappie Pondexter, Ruth Riley, Katie Smith, Dawn Staley, Katy Steding, Tina Thompson, Kara Wolters and Lynette Woodward played for the USA in the World University Games.