July 18, 2015
CHEKHOV, Russia — Behind 18 points from South Carolina forward A’ja Wilson, USA Basketball posted a 72-57 win over Spain in the first game of group play in the FIBA U19 World Championships at the Sports Palace Olympiskyi in Chekhov, Russia. Under head coach Dawn Staley, the Americans used a 27-3 run midway through the second half to pull away after the Spaniards cut the lead to six with 5:38 to go in the third quarter.
“Any time you start a tournament, you want to play so well,” said Staley. “We came out with a sluggish start, but that’s why you have assembled 12 of the best young players in the country. When we’re not getting the execution that we need on both sides of the ball, we’ll just substitute and try to find the right combination to get us going.”
Wilson, the U.S.’s team captain, dominated the first half of play, nearly recording a double-double in 14 minutes of play with 12 points and nine rebounds before the half. The Americans led 15-13 after the first quarter, but saw Spain go ahead 18-15 early in the second period. Holding onto a two-point lead, 24-22 with 4:50 to play in the half, the U.S. launched a 12-2 run, started by a jumper from Wilson, to take a 36-24 lead into the locker room.
Spain opened the second half with a run, drawing within six with 5:38 left in the third quarter as the U.S. struggled from the free throw line and on the glass for a stretch. Shakayla Thomas’ three-point play stopped the run for a 46-37 lead, and the Americans turned up the defensive pressure from there. A 59-40 lead at the start of the fourth quarter quickly ballooned into a 70-40 advantage just 2:19 into the period with the United States converting a series of turnovers into quick-strike offense.
With the comfortable advantage, the Americans hit a lull, allowing the Spaniards to narrow the gap, but they ran out of time to complete their comeback.
The U.S. dominated the glass, out-rebounding Spain 58-40, and capitalized at the free throw line, hitting 19-of-31 from the stripe, compared to just 10-of-12 for Spain.
Wilson’s 18 points led all scorers with Thomas and Napheesa Collier joining her in double figures with 15 and 13, respectively. No Spanish player reached double-figure points. The reigning SEC Freshman of the Year from South Carolina rounded out her double-double with 10 rebounds, adding a blocked shot and three steals to her effort.
The United States is back in action on Sun., July 19, at 1:15 p.m. (ET) against China in Group B action.