A’ja Wilson: Team USA ‘Needed This Push’ From Serbia Ahead of World Cup Semifinals

Team USA outlasted a tough Serbian national team that accepted the challenge of playing against the powerhouse American team. For the first team in the FIBA women’s World Cup, Team USA trailed early and was even down four points late in the second quarter.

However, Team USA has won three straight World Cups for a reason. After Kahleah Cooper went down with an undisclosed injury, the U.S. reeled off a decisive 20-0 run and ultimately beat Serbia, 88-55, to cement their spot in the World Cup semifinals.

“I think that was kind of a moment where we really had to lock in,” A’ja Wilson said of Copper’s injury. “That first quarter kind of stumbled us a little. I know I was kind of caught off guard. We can’t have that. So I think for us and for the rest of the way, we’ve really got to lock in from the jump and understand that we can get whatever we want, we’ve just got to stay the course.”

Serbia, the No. 10 team in FIBA’s ranking, succeeded in executing its game plan to clog up the paint and make the game a grind-it-out physical matchup. Team USA ver Team Servia marked the first time that the Americans were outscored in the pain, 28-26. Kelsey Plum (17 points admitted that Serbia was “more physical than we’ve seen in the whole tournament.”

Team USA’s struggles with Serbia’s physical defense was illustrated by their 17 turnovers, the first time they turned the ball over more than their opponent during the World Cup.

“They had a lot of bodies in the paint,” Alyssa Thomas (13 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists) said. “Rightfully so, with us scoring 94 points in the paint [against Korea], I would do the same. But they focused on that, and we really had to knock down outside shots.”

Instead of relying on the paint to beat the Serbians, Team USA knocked down 11 three-pointers and hit 2-12 free throws. The Americans closed the first half with a 12-0 run to grab a 50-33 lead, and started the second-half with an 8-0 run. Team USA also held Serbia scoreless from the 3:39 mark of the second frame to the 5:15 mark in the thrid, allowing Serbia to score seven points the rest of the third quarter.

“I think we needed this push,” Wilson said. “I think we needed that first quarter to kind of wake us up a little bit because that’s what we’re going to see. It’s going to get tougher from here on out. So I think it was a good game for us to have. It’s also a good game for us to kind of see and toughen it out.”

Team USA will face Team Canada on Friday for the right to play in the gold medal game. The winner of the US-Canada game will play the winner of the Australia-China semifinal.