September 23, 2022 

What led to a Shakira Austin breakthrough at the World Cup

Youngest player on Team USA leads team to win over Puerto Rico

Not too long ago, few people would have predicted Shakira Austin would be playing for the U.S. in the World Cup this year. Even after the final roster was introduced, her name stood out as a surprise.

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The 6’5 center who just finished her rookie season with the Washington Mystics led the team with a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds in the Americans’ 106-42 win over Puerto Rico on Friday. The U.S. is now 2-0 at the World Cup in Sydney and plays the Chinese team at 12:30 a.m. ET Saturday (ESPN2).

The 22-year-old Austin’s numbers were an increase from the four points and four rebounds she recorded in the team’s opening win over Belgium the previous day. Her totals were also nearly double her 8.7 points and 6.4 rebounds that catapulted her to the WNBA All-Rookie team with the Washington Mystics. The Mystics selected Austin third overall this spring out of the University of Mississippi.

The three centers the U.S. sent to Tokyo last year were Brittney Griner, Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles. None of them are with the program at this time. This opened the door for young talent at the post position. Brionna Jones is the other center on the World Cup roster at 6’3. Jones scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the overpowering of Puerto Rico. This was a Puerto Rican team that showed it was no cupcake, either. It dominated Bosnia and Herzegovina, 82-58 in its opening game.

“This was a fun game for her,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said of Austin. “She got a lot of minutes and found her way productivity wise. She has such great length, she played great in the paint. She played with Bri Jones, who got a lot of attention. She had some freedom of movement. She has been playing well, that’s why she made the national team, why she was given the opportunity to play in the World Cup, so she made the most of the opportunity and certainly today, the most of her minutes. She is still learning, but she learns on the fly, and she plays hard. She’s athletic, she’s long and relentless, and those lead to good things.”

Another reason for the minutes was that A’ja Wilson was not yet with the team. Coach Reeve added that she was scheduled to arrive on Friday in time for the China game. Wilson’s teammates with the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces, Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum, arrived in Sydney, but they did not play in
the Puerto Rico game.

In addition, during the win over Puerto Rico, Alyssa Thomas scored 11 points and swiped six steals, which were the most for Team USA in a World Cup since Tamika Catchings in 2002.

“Part of the game plan was having me switch out, which I love,” Thomas said. “I love to cause havoc. It’s fun playing on a team that loves to play defense and it really fuels our offense.”

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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