October 1, 2022 

Why this World Cup win was different for Team USA

A'ja Wilson named World Cup MVP after Team USA's 22-point win over China

The 2022 FIBA World Cup was supposed to be a transitional event for the U.S. team. Briana Weiss succeeded Carol Callan as director, Cheryl Reeve became the new coach, and the program emerged out of the Sue BirdDiana Taurasi era with a younger crop of players. Still, Team USA continued to break program records, and the icing on the cake came with an 83-61 win over China on Saturday in Sydney for its 11th total and fourth consecutive gold medal.

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The U.S. has now won 30 straight games at the World Cup, second-most all-time to the Soviet Union’s 56. The 22-point margin in the gold-medal game bettered the Americans’ previous record, 20-point wins in 1986 and 2010, though it did fall short of the Soviet Union’s 35-point win in 1964. This came after the U.S. broke the World Cup mark for points in a game with its 145-69 obliteration of Korea in the group stage. The attendance of more than 16,000 on Saturday was also a record for the Women’s World Cup.

“As we saw some great players not be a part of this, I think if you look around the world, [the thought was,] ‘Now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said. “What we showed is our league, the WNBA, is really, really good. The depth of talent we displayed — there were some great players who were not here. What I am most pleased of is the trust and buy-in.

“This is something that is special to us, what has been done since 1996 [undefeated in the Olympics]. We hear about it all of the time. I wanted to make sure this journey is fun. What happens sometimes is that, when you have this pressure to win, it takes some of the fun out of it.”

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Forward A’ja Wilson and guard Kelsey Plum led the U.S. with 19 and 17 points in the final. FIBA honored Wilson as the MVP of the tournament. This marks the third consecutive World Cup that the MVP was also that year’s WNBA MVP, as Wilson joins Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart. Stewart, who won her third World Cup title and was team captain, was named to the World Cup All-Star Five team. Chinese center Han Xu joined Wilson and Stewart on the All-Star team, along with Canada’s Bridget Carleton and Australia’s Stephanie Talbot.

Wilson ranked third in the World Cup in scoring at 17.2 points per game and added 7.5 rebounds per game. She missed Team USA’s first two games after being just days removed from winning the WNBA title with the Las Vegas Aces. She stepped right into the USA’s 77-63 group stage win over China and recorded 20 points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes like it was second nature.

Reeve commented on the fact that players like Wilson make this turnaround look easy. Not only were Las Vegas’ Wilson, Plum and Chelsea Gray in Sydney, but so were Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones of the Connecticut Sun, which lost to the Aces in the WNBA Finals. She added that she spoke with Wilson before the team’s February training camp, which Wilson did not attend. Reeve noticed how much Wilson wanted the WNBA title, MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. Reeve later congratulated her after winning these accolades.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” Wilson said. “Getting used to Cheryl’s system was big for us, and we did well. It has been a crazy couple of weeks, but I am blessed to be in this situation. I came here with a goal. It’s like a stepping stone, and we plant seeds for the next generation. [Stewart] and I were taking a selfie and thinking, ‘There is so much more to come.’ We were like, ‘I remember playing U-16 and winning the gold medal, and now we are winning gold medals at this level.’ We are laying down the foundation.”

The 26-year-old Wilson was also on the 2018 World Cup gold medal team and won gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

Where does China go from here?

The world’s most populous nation medaled for the first time since 1994. Red and yellow were the color of choice for many of the record crowd at the Sydney Super Dome. Center Li Yueru led China in the final with 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting and 12 rebounds. It was her best game of the tournament.

“From this experience we gained a lot, especially mentally,” China head coach Zheng Wei said. “Our goal was to be better than four years ago. Our players responded in this moment and reached the gold medal [game]. It was a really good result. Moving forward, we learned a lot from this tournament, and our players will keep improving themselves in time for the Paris Olympic Games.”

After the semifinals, Australia head coach Sandy Brondello noted that her team had dominated a young Chinese squad by more than 40 points in the 2018 World Cup quarterfinals. But China developed those same players to form a base that can compete for medals at the highest stage.

“China’s a very good basketball team,” Reeve added. “We watched them grow up. I saw them when they were young. I am really happy for them that they were able to finish and get a silver. It was a long time coming for them.”

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Other notes from around the competition

  • Earlier on Saturday, Australia defeated Canada, 95-65, for the bronze medal. Opals legend Lauren Jackson scored 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. The Naismith Hall of Famer, who came out of retirement for this tournament, previously had a high of 12 points in the event.
  • Arella Guirantes of Puerto Rico ended up leading the event in scoring at 18.2 points per game, and Mali’s Sika Kone led in rebounding at 11.8 per game.

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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