February 15, 2022 

U.S. sweeps opponents, as World Cup qualifying ends

China, Japan and Nigeria among teams to earn bids this week

The FIBA World Cup field was finalized this weekend, and the three-time defending champion U.S. put its new look on the court. The Americans previously qualified for the World Cup in response to winning the Tokyo Olympics. However, this weekend’s qualifying tournament in Washington, D.C., served as a valuable experience.

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“Overall, I think we accomplished some of the things we wanted to get done,” new U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.

Team USA posted an 84-75 win over Belgium and a 93-55 domination of Puerto Rico on Friday and Saturday. Kelsey Plum led the team with 16 points in the opener, while Ariel Atkins stepped up on Saturday. The Mystics guard scored 14, and five others scored double figures in the win over Puerto Rico.

“Any time you play for USA Basketball, you’re playing to get better,” Plum added. “I think we took some good steps. Any time I have experienced USA Basketball, it’s helped me for this moment, and I feel very prepared. I feel like I am ready to step in for what Coach needs me to do and what the team needs me to do. Opportunities like this, you need to make the most out of them. If I can give a shot of adrenaline, that’s my goal.”

Coach Reeve added that Plum displays “great shape, ” and Plum impresses with her confidence, attentiveness as a point guard and aggression.

“Our perimeter play was the strength of our camp,” Reeve said, “We were trying to make sure we had good balance. We had Ariel start, then Allisha Gray come in for her. It’s nice to have Kayla McBride come off the bench; she’s really efficient for us. Kelsey has a unique ability to carve out space and get you good opportunities.”

The U.S. never trailed versus Puerto Rico and controlled every intangible. It forced 19 turnovers, outscoring Puerto Rico 27-2 and outscored the island territory 52-18 in the paint. In the first game, Belgium bettered the U.S. in the paint, 36-34, and it also shot better from the line and field.

“The U.S. team is also building,” Belgian coach Valery Demory said. “It has a lot of changes and a limited time to work. But they showed the values of the American game with a lot of enthusiasm and physicality.”

Joining the U.S. in the 12-team field are:

Australia: Automatically qualified as the host but still posted wins over Brazil and Korea in its group.

Belgium: After the loss to the U.S., had no problem in its 66-43 win over Russia on Sunday.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Defeated Japan, 87-82, on Sunday behind Jonquel Jones’ 36 points and 23 rebounds to qualify for its first-ever World Cup.

Canada: Bridget Carleton drained six three-pointers for 28 points in its 96-64 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina.

China: Huang Sijing scored 30 points in a 103-70 blowout of France on Sunday to go undefeated in its group.

France: Opened with a 77-69 win over Mali before two losses in qualifying.

Japan: On Thursday, the Olympic silver medalists defeated Canada, 86-79, to qualify.

Republic of Korea: JiSu Park recorded a triple-double of 20 points, 13 rebounds and 11 blocks in a win over Brazil. Korea qualified for its 16th-consecutive World Cup, equaling the U.S. for the longest streak.

Nigeria: Promise Amukamara connected on a half-court shot to end the third quarter and the team erased a 20-point deficit to defeat France, 67-65. Nigeria then topped Mali, 73-69, to claim the African bid.

Russia: Raisa Musina recorded 20 points and 17 rebounds, as the team blew out Puerto Rico, 102-68, for the final spot on Monday. It makes its first World Cup appearance since 2010.

Serbia: Yvonne Anderson averaged more than 22 points per game, as Serbia ran the table in its qualifying group.

The field declines from the 16 teams that competed at Tenerife in 2018. Brazil, Mali and Puerto Rico failed to qualify from this weekend’s final round, while Belarus needed to forfeit due to virus restrictions. As a result, this will be the first World Cup since 1959 with no Latin American teams.

“When you have a new quad, this is a transition time,” Reeve added. “You have to have a group that is passionate about what they are doing and selfless. And if have that, you can do anything on the court, you just need to work on your schemes. That’s what USA Basketball is all about. We’ll do what we always do, and we’ll put our best team out there.”

The World Cup will take place from Sept. 22 to Oct. 1 in Sydney. The draw for the groups and schedule will be on March 3.

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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