Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

USA U-19 Squad Unbeaten in Championship Round With Three UConn Starters

By Mike Siroky

It is beginning to look more and more like a sweepstakes for the 2013 USA U19 World Championship Team after another round of 3-0 heading into the quarterfinals.

UConn has had the most impact on this team, with three players, including leading scorer and undeniable MVP Breanna Stewart, in the regular starting five.

The team is making life easy for Katie Meier (Miami) and assistants Nikki Caldwell (Louisiana State) and Kelly Graves (Gonzaga).

They finally hit a challenge in a matchup of unbeatens but survived even that to emerge as the top seed headed into the medals round.

Team USA has now swept six straight this tournament. They are the undeniable favorite heading into the weekend medal round.

First up in Round 2 was Netherlands.

They were blasted like everyone else to that point, 102-42.

Team leader Brianna Stewart, the MVP of last April's NCAA Women's Final Four won by UConn, played just 22 minutes and that was the second-most time on the team.

She scored 10, with six rebounds. UConn teammate Morgan Tuck, also a starter, scored 18 in 15 minutes. The third UConn player was a third starter once again, as Moriah Jefferson reclaimed her role as the setup guard.

The defense held Netherlands to 25 percent form the field, including a 26-4 second quarter.

Meier credited the game plan to her coaches.

“The assistants are doing a great job with the scout, not overcomplicating things but understanding that if we take two or three things away from the other team, it’s very hard for them to overcome,” she said.

She said the schedule of nine games in 11 days allows her to play most everybody.

For instance, Kentucky-bound Linnae Harper has been a key player off the bench, and yet, “I didn’t even realize Harper didn’t even play in the fourth quarter. And Harper’s won a world championship,” Meier said.

“It’s just one of those things where we wanted to go really long tonight. We wanted to see our length against a zone. We wanted to do some switching defenses, which as you rotate people through you’re thinking ‘Oh goodness gracious! I’m very blessed.’

“There’s a lot of talent on this team and everybody’s really performing. People are playing really, really solid basketball. There’s not some glaring error that you have to pull someone. They’re playing great.”

Harper said she’s lovin’ it.

“We know that we have a lot of people on the bench who can bring the same intensity, play as hard and we have confidence in all 12 players,” Harper said.

Canada – finally another team with a wining record – was the next to challenge.

The 88-54 score is more realistic than all the previous games, but it was yet another rout with five USA players in double figures. Defense made the difference.

They closed the half on a run and extended it to 19-0 early in the third quarter to put the game away. Duke’s Alexis Jones scored nine of the game-high 17 in that pulse.

The win gave the USA automatic entry into the quarterfinals.

Stewart scored 14 and Tuck 13. Bashaara Graves (Tennessee) has performed mightily in the middle and this time she scored 10, as did Harper. All but Harper started.

“At the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half, we played great,” said Meier.

“It took us a little bit of time to establish ourselves and our tempo. It was a nine-point game there close to the end of the second quarter and we pushed it to 16 at halftime.

“Our starters were taking care of business at the start of the third quarter. A 31-point third quarter, when points were hard to come by tonight, I thought that was the difference in the game.”

Moriah Jefferson, the third UConn starter once again, was ready to praise Jones, the player of the game.

“Incredible,” she said of Jones. “She came out on fire, so I was like, ‘Well, wherever Lex is, that’s where I’m going to try to get the ball to.’ I think we all as a team recognized it and we just fed the beast.”

Jones had seven assists and three steals.

Unbeaten (until it played USA) France completed the Round 2 challenge. A nice 69-63 win puts France as the No. 2 seed an an inevitable rematch in the final game this weekend.

Stewart and Tuck, 26 and 22 points, provided the offense. Graves, Jones and Harper were steady at the close as France could never get it to a point of contention.

Graves has seven rebounds and four points, Jones nine points, three rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots and Harper had five points, seven rebounds and three assists. One of Jones’ biggest blocks was on a 3-attempt with less than 44 seconds left.

Of the block, Tuck said, “It was really big. That was a really big play that we needed. We needed a stop and that’s what we were struggling to get. I think she did a great job of being really tough on the offensive end (Jones had just hit her own 3) and then coming right back and being tough on defense.

Tuck scored the final point from the line, then USA denied any shot in the final 18 seconds.

Meier termed it a dedication by the veterans of international play that made the difference.

“We have a ton of respect for France,” Meier said. “They match us athletically. They are better than us in pace of play and they controlled the tempo tonight.

“We couldn’t impose our will on them, because they’re a very veteran team. We had to play their game and break through our box of tricks. We had to dig through our half-court offenses and our half-court defenses and really execute.

“We figured it out, but it took a long time to figure it out. They’re a very sophisticated, high-level basketball club.”

USA started with routs of Lithuania, 113-47; China, 103-56; and Mali, 103-26.
It has been so much fun that any young college player who declined the opportunity to play here is missing the chance, experience and exposure of a lifetime.

The top four teams move into the championship stage, this weekend.

Originally known as the FIBA Junior World Championship, the tournament was played every four years starting in 1985. FIBA changed its calendar in 2006 and now conducts the U19 World Championship every other year.

USA is 60-12 in the U19/Junior World Championships, capturing a fourth-consecutive Gold medal with an 8-1 record in 2011.

USA has taken five of the past six U19/Junior World Championships with a 51-4 record in that time frame, including the six wins for far in this tournament.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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