September 21, 2022 

What to watch for as the FIBA World Cup tips off

Twelve teams will compete for a gold medal in Sydney

The confetti from the Las Vegas Aces’ WNBA championship has hardly reached the ground, yet it is time to crown another champion in women’s basketball. The FIBA World Cup tips off on Thursday in Sydney, Australia, which is Wednesday evening U.S. time. Eleven teams are attempting to dethrone the perennial powerhouse American squad, which won gold four years ago in Tenerife, Spain. The U.S. is once again loaded with All-Stars, albeit without some of the future Hall-of-Famers from the team that won the gold medal at last year’s Tokyo Olympics. Let’s look at each team in turn.


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Group A

Belgium

The Belgians were fourth in their World Cup debut in 2018. They then lost 86-85 to Japan in the Tokyo Olympic quarterfinals. Forward Emma Meesseman led all players in Tokyo with 26.8 points and 3.5 steals per game, and she was second with 10.5 rebounds per game. Guard Julie Allemand led the 2018 World Cup with 8.2 assists per game. Former Indiana Fever guard Hind Ben Abdelkader is back with Belgium as well. Belgium opens play against the U.S. and will look to avenge an 84-75 loss from the World Cup qualifying tournament in February.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The lone debutant team in Sydney is led by Jonquel Jones, just days after she played in the WNBA Finals with the Connecticut Sun. The 2021 WNBA MVP recorded 36 points and 23 rebounds in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s win over Japan in February that clinched its World Cup berth. She also led the 2021 EuroBasket with 24.3 points and 16.8 rebounds per game, 6.5 more rebounds than teammate Marica Gajic, who was second in the tournament but is not on the World Cup roster. Guard Nikolina Knezevic and power forward Nikolina Elez averaged double-figure scoring in the qualifying tournament.

China

Appearing in their 11th tournament, the Chinese were silver medalists in 1994. The team was fifth at last year’s Olympics. 6’10 center Han Xu scored 8.5 points per game this season for the New York Liberty. She scored 20 points against the U.S. in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup as an 18-year-old. Li Yueru, a 6’7 center for the Chicago Sky, is also on the team. She averaged 14.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in Tokyo.

Korea

Korea equals the U.S. with its 16th consecutive tourney appearance, but its fortunes in the past decade have been the opposite. Korea has lost nine straight World Cup games, with its last win coming over Japan in 2010 by one point. The team was also winless at last year’s Tokyo Games. The team suffered a major blow when center Park Ji-su pulled out with a medical condition recently. The MVP of the WKBL and former Las Vegas player grabbed 10.7 rebounds per game in Tokyo (second in the tournament) and led the event in blocks with 3.3 per game. Park Ji-hyun scored a tournament-high 16.4 points per game at the 2019 Under-19 World Cup. Kim Dan-bi first appeared with the team at the 2010 World Cup and returns as well.

Puerto Rico

The Caribbean island makes its second World Cup appearance after placing last in 2018. It was also last in the Tokyo Games. Mya Hollingshed, the 2022 No. 8 overall pick in the WNBA Draft from the University of Colorado, is now naturalized and joins the team. Jennifer O’Neill (who averaged 16.3 points per game at the 2018 World Cup) and Arella Guirantes (14.7 points in the qualifying tournament) are back with the team, as is 36-year-old point guard Pamela Rosado. Absent from the roster is Jazmon Gwathmey, who ranked third in Tokyo with 18.0 points per game.

United States

The three-time defending champions are in search of an 11th gold medal. A’ja Wilson, the WNBA MVP for Las Vegas, led the United States in scoring in the Olympics with 20 points per game and was second behind Seattle’s Breanna Stewart (11.3 to 9.3) in rebounding. Ariel Atkins, Jewell Loyd and Chelsea Gray also return from the Olympic team, plus Kelsey Plum from the 3×3 gold-medal team. This will be the first World Cup since 1998 without Sue Bird at point guard and first since 2002 without guard Diana Taurasi. The spotlight will open for young stars such as the Washington Mystics’ Shakira Austin and the Liberty’s Sabrina Ionescu to shine.


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Group B

Australia

The hosts and reigning silver medalists are making their 16th World Cup appearance. The U.S. blew out Australia, 79-55, in the Tokyo 2020 quarterfinals, but now Lauren Jackson is back with the Opals. The 41-year-old Hall-of-Famer and former Seattle center played in four World Cups from 1998 to 2010, winning in 2006, and won the first of four Olympic medals (three silvers and a bronze) at Sydney in 2000. According to FIBA, the last international event Jackson participated in was the 2013 Oceania Championships. Seattle center Ezi Magbegor was second in the WNBA in blocks this season. Rebecca Allen, Stephanie Talbot, Kristy Wallace and Sami Whitcomb return as well for Opals head coach Sandy Brondello, who was a two-time World Cup bronze medalist as a player.

Canada

In their 12th overall appearance and fifth straight, the Canadians are in search of their first medal since 1986. The team looks to improve after it was disappointingly eliminated in the group stage in Tokyo. Phoenix Mercury guard Kia Nurse was third in Tenerife with 18.2 points per game, while Minnesota Lynx players Bridget Carleton and Natalie Achonwa scored 20 and 16 per game in the qualifying tournament.

France

The French are making their 11th overall and sixth consecutive appearance, but they have not medaled since earning bronze at the inaugural event in 1953. Last summer, France won silver at the EuroBasket before capturing bronze in Tokyo. But the team will be without its three leading scorers from 2021 after it was announced this week that Liberty guard Marine Johannes withdrew from the competition with a thigh injury and was replaced with Mamignan Toure. France will look for Gabby Williams to step up. The Seattle forward averaged 10.7 points per game and led France in rebounding in the Olympics.

Japan

The Japanese make their 14th appearance, with a silver medal from 1975. The team lost 90-75 to the U.S. in last year’s Olympic final on home soil. Japan returns 6’4 center Ramu Tokashiki, who missed the Olympics with an injury. The former Storm player scored 17.0 points per game at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Point guard Rui Machida, who led the Tokyo Olympics with 12.5 assists per game and debuted with the Mystics this season, is not on the roster.

Mali

The West African nation was 15th in its previous World Cup in 2010. At No. 37 in the FIBA rankings, Mali is the lowest-ranked team in the World Cup and replaced Nigeria, which is ranked 14th but withdrew this spring. Center Sika Kone (6’3, 20 years old) led the 2021 Under-19 World Cup with 19.7 points and 14.8 rebounds per game as Mali finished in fourth place.

Serbia

Serbia makes its third World Cup appearance after advancing to the quarterfinals in 2014. It won the bronze medal at the Rio Games and was fourth in Tokyo. Serbia also won the 2021 EuroBasket, defeating France in the final, but event MVP Sonja Vasic has since retired. Yvonne Anderson and Tina Krajisnik, who both played in the WNBA this season, return to the team.

Following five group stage games, the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will take place on three consecutive days. The gold medal game is scheduled for 2 a.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Sydney Super Dome, which is the venue that hosted the final of the 2000 Olympics.

Written by Scott Mammoser

Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, the ISU and World Athletics. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 70 countries.

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