September 27, 2022 

How Sun and Aces players are adjusting to World Cup play in Sydney

U.S. defeats Bosnia and Herzegovina to conclude group stage undefeated

It seems like only last week that A’ja Wilson and Jonquel Jones were posting up against each other in the WNBA Finals. That’s because it was only last week. Yet, the two centers who have combined to win the past three WNBA MVP awards found each other again. This time, they were wearing the colors of their national teams, rather than the Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun. The U.S. dispatched Bosnia and Herzegovina, 121-59, on Tuesday to conclude the group stage of the FIBA World Cup undefeated.

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Brionna Jones scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds for the U.S., who will meet Serbia in the quarterfinals at 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Serbia pulled out a win over France on Tuesday, 68-62, to grab the final quarterfinal position from Group B. Jonquel Jones was limited to seven points, but recorded 10 rebounds against the U.S. She exits Australia having averaged 13 points per game in the World Cup debut for both her and her adopted nationality. She is originally from the Bahamas.

“It’s different playing against her and not with her,” Brionna Jones said of her Sun teammate Jonquel Jones. “But when we are out there on the court, I was just trying to make everything tough for her. We can be friends off the court, but when we are on the court, we are going at each other. It’s great though to be able to compete against her.”

Alyssa Thomas was the third Sun player on the floor in Sydney on Monday. She was also a teammate of Brionna Jones on the 2014 Maryland Final Four team, with the older Thomas being a senior to Jones a freshman. Earlier this month, Thomas was responsible for the first two triple-doubles in Finals history.

“It’s her mentality,” Brionna Jones said of Thomas. “Every time she steps on the court, her goal is to wreak havoc defensively, and I think offensively, she’s just great at seeing the floor and creating her own offense. I think for her, it’s just her own mentality, and every time she steps on the court, she comes out and sees everything.”

Tracking the champion Aces in Sydney

Kelsey Plum led Team USA in the win over Bosnia and Herzegovina with 20 points. While she and Chelsea Gray arrived in Sydney to sit on the bench of the team’s second game versus Puerto Rico, Wilson joined the team for the third against China.

“I think it just comes from who we are when it comes to USAB,” Wilson said after Monday’s win over Korea. “Understanding that we push a lot of things aside and make a lot of sacrifices to be here, because we are playing for something that is bigger than us. That is the beautiful thing. It’s (the WNBA) probably the only league where you can see (this circumstance).”

“Five of us were in the Finals competing against each other, and now we get here, and we are teammates. I think it’s pretty cool to share that locker room with them, just to know them, it forms that sisterhood that we have in the W. It’s definitely fun, going from scouting each other to now playing together. The flip of the switch is easy because I have been doing it for a while. That’s just USAB. We come together, we know our roles and our ultimate goal is to win gold.”

In just three games, Wilson is tied with Arella Guirantes of Puerto Rico for the World Cup lead of 18 points per game. Plum is fourth, behind Korea’s Kang Lee-seul, at 15.7. Wilson is on pace to add the MVP of the World Cup to her trophy case. If she does, she will continue the trend from 2014 and 2018. Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart were both WNBA and World Cup MVPs those years, as well.

“I am happy to be here,” Wilson added. “It’s crazy. It’s a different ball game. I go from the Aces, where I am one of the prominent players who has to really produce, and I come here, and it is coming from everyone. There are a lot of great people. Just the role shift is something I love because I don’t have to focus on what I need to do like when I play for the Aces. The USA gives me a breath like ‘I can come off the bench, and I will be good.’ It’s been a week of craziness, but I am here.”

The other MVP this year was Gray, who collected the Finals MVP trophy. She scored 16 and equaled Plum with a game-high seven assists versus the Bosnians.

“It feels good being back in the USA jersey,” Gray said after the win over China. “It’s like another level of putting that on. Seeing some familiar faces and not playing against them and able to pass them the ball is wonderful.”

After the U.S. plays Serbia on Wednesday night, Canada will face Puerto Rico at 12:30 a.m. ET on Thursday. China plays France at 4 a.m. ET and host Australia meets Belgium at 6:30 a.m. ET on Thursday. Six of the eight quarterfinalists from 2018 returned to the stage. Serbia is back for the first time since 2014, while Puerto Rico is making its debut in the round.

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Written by Scott Mammoser

Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.

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