From our friends at USA Basketball:
GURABO, Puerto Rico (Aug. 19, 2012) -Finding itself in unfamiliar territory, the 2012 USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team (5-0) never panicked and fought back from a double-digit deficit to claim the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship gold medal with a 71-47 victory over Brazil (4-1) on Sunday night in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. The gold medal marks the sixth straight for the United States at the U18s. Since its inception in 1988, the American women have now claimed seven gold medals (1988, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012) and two silver medals (1992, 1996) in nine tries, and are now 43-2 all-time at this event.
Argentina (3-2) edged Canada (2-3) 53-49 in the bronze medal game.
A trio of players posted double-doubles, while a total of four scored in double digits, including tournament MVP Breanna Stewart (Cicero-North H.S. / North Syracuse, N.Y.), who had 13 points and 10 boards and was the tournament’s second leading scorer (14.0 ppg.) and third leading rebounder (7.8 rpg). Morgan Tuck (Bolingbrook H.S./ Bolingbrook, Ill.), who topped the tournament charts for scoring (17.8 ppg.) closed the night with a team-high 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds; while Bashaara Graves (Clarksville H.S. / Clarksville, Tenn.) finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Michaela Mabrey (Manasquan H.S. / Belmar, N.J.) rounded out the USA’s top scorers with 14 points.
“Those three were workhorses down there,” said Katie Meier, USA U18 National Team and University of Miami head coach. “They just battled and battled and battled. When I say it was a physical game, it was an extremely physical game. So every time Bre (Stewart) or B (Bashaara Graves) or Morgan (Tuck) got a touch, it was well earned. They really had to even focus on a catch. They were getting swarmed. That’s what opened up Michael Mabrey and she just put us on her back there for awhile and brought us back into the game.”
After trailing for just 1:44 combined in its first four games, and never by more than three points early in a contest, the U.S. found itself in the position of having to come from behind by double digits.
Brazil came out on fire and the United States, which missed its first four shots, found itself on the wrong side of a 9-0 score. Stewart converted on a put-back at 6:15 to put the first points on the board for her side, but the USA continued struggling to score and by the end of the first stanza, trailed 16-7.
In falling behind, the team, which shot 50.4 percent from the floor in its first four games, missed its first four field goals and shot a very uncharacteristic 14.3 percent (2-14 FGs) in the first period
Thirty-eight seconds into the second period Brazil’s Thamara Silva De Frietas put her team up by double digits, 18-7. However, the North Americans did not panic.
“I knew that we would bounce back,” said Mabrey. “Coach was giving us confidence. She wasn’t freaking out at all. She was just telling us to calm down. I think we were a little jittery and a little nervous in the beginning. But once we came together and we decided to play USA Basketball, when we did that things started to turn around.”
With shots not falling in the beginning, the U.S. instead turned to its bread and butter – stingy defense – and with the defensive heat turned up, the USA’s offense started clicking.
Bashaara Graves knocked down a shot on an inbounds pass from Mabrey at 9:01, the first two of an eventual string of 19 unanswered points. Five players scored in the run, which saw Mabrey connect on a 3-pointer at 5:00 to knot the game at 18-apiece. Following a Brazil 24-second violation Graves hit one of two attempts from the line at 4:15 to give the U.S. its first lead of the game, 19-8, and the red, white and blue never again trailed. The run, which featured three 3-pointers from Mabrey in a 10-0 sequence, ended with a Tuck put-back at 1:50 and the USA’s lead stood at 26-18.
“Michaela (Mabrey), she hit some clutch threes to help us get into the momentum,” said Stewart. “Then, the defense, we really stepped it up and everything started flowing from there.”
Brazil finally ended its scoring drought with a 3-pointer from Estela Gregorio. After a traditional 3-point play from Stewart, Gregorio struck again from beyond the arc and at halftime the U.S. held a slim 29-24 margin.
“She definitely talked about running the plays on offense, just playing our game,” said Tuck on the halftime adjustments. “Stop the dribble penetration, because that was something that was really hurting us on the defensive end. Basically, just keeping them out of the lane.”
Coming out of the locker room fired up, the North Americans scored the first six points of the third quarter, but Brazil hit another three to remain close, 35-27, at 7:12. Countering with another mini-spurt of seven, including five from Mabrey, at 5:26 the USA finally had some breathing room, 42-27. After a Brazil bucket at 4:30, the U.S. continued its onslaught and outscored the South Americans 8-2 to close the third quarter up 50-31.
The fourth quarter saw a few spurts from Brazil, but the USA punctuated the game with a 10-0 run en route to collecting gold.
Stewart has now captured gold medals at the U17 and U19 FIBA World Championships and the U16 and U18 FIBA Americas Championships.
“I was really surprised I got that, actually,” said the ever-humble Stewart on her MVP award. “Its nice, but I’d rather have a gold medal.”
In the end, the U.S. improved its shooting percentage to 40.6 (21-48 FGs) overall and made 31.3 percent (5-16 3pt FGs) from beyond the arc, while limiting Brazil, which hit for 41.7 percent (10-24 FGs) in the first half, to 31.5 percent (17-54 FGs) on the night. Further, the USA claimed 16 points off of 23 turnovers, but only gave up seven points from its 19 turnovers. The U.S. outscored Brazil 34-18 in the paint and 20-5 on second chance points and outrebounded Brazil 48-33.
Jannah Tucker (New Town H.S. / Randallstown, Md.) went down with an injury to her left knee early in the USA’s Aug. 16 game and did not compete for the remainder of the tournament.
In classification games, Mexico (1-4) picked up its first win after downing Dominican Republic (0-5) 64-33 to finish in seventh place, while host Puerto Rico (3-2) finished in fifth place with a 56-46 victory over Colombia (2-3).
Meier is assisted by collegiate head coaches Nikki Caldwell of Louisiana State University and Kelly Graves of Gonzaga University.