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.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: USA Needs Two Overtimes to Get to World University Gold Medal Game

By Mike Siroky

Well that was exciting.

It took a surprising two overtimes before the United States women’s basketball team in the World University Games qualified for a medal in defense of its title, 92-88, against an inspired team from Japan.

USA is in the Gold Medal Game.

Tennessee’s Mercedes Russell led USA with 25 points and 14 rebounds.

As has been the trend, USA started slowly in its fifth straight win and this time it was almost fatal. Japan won the opening quarter, 30-16 and led at the half, 43-36.

USA still trailed by one at the end of the third, 58-57, but managed a tie at the end of regulation, at 77 and each side scored none in the first extra period.

That set up the finish as USA finally was able to wear Japan down. Erica McCall (Stanford) took over on offense, but the defense made the difference.

McCall hit a jump shot after the tip for her 15th point, assisted by Jordin Canada (UCLA). She then blocked a shot and Canada got the rebound. Courtney Williams (South Florida) hit her 13th point and the USA had a four-point advantage. It needed play only even from the four-minute mark.

Two turnovers later, Russell rescued a USA miss with her 13th offensive rebound and fed Williams for another basket. At the two-minute mark, Russell had another offensive rebound and hit her final basket pushing the lead to a refreshing six, the largest the USA had all night.

Aerial Powers (Michigan State) concluded USA baskets with her 24th point and USA hit free throws in the final minute, six by Powers and two by Williams, for the final push.

Russell played 47 minutes, Williams 43, Powers 42 and Canada 33. Diamond Deshields is listed in the box score as among three USA players on the bench.

“I think we kind of had a chip on our shoulder,” said Russell about the second overtime. “We had to make a gap, and we had to put the thing away. We had to tell them that we weren’t here to lose.”

“We knew we needed to start it on defense,” said Powers. “We knew we could score and it had to start with stops on defense.

"After the first quarter, we were all saying that we had three whole quarters left, so there’s no need to panic and no need to get down on ourselves. We’re basketball players. They hit us in the mouth first, but we need to fight back.”

Japan had hit 63 percent from the field for its fast start, which shocked USA.

“That was one of the craziest games I’ve seen in a while or been part of as a coach,” said USA coach Joe McKeown (Northwestern). “I want our players to be able to enjoy it and move forward. We’ll get ready right away for the gold medal game. That’s why we came here.”

“Emotional is the right word,” said McCall when asked to describe the win. “That was absolutely crazy. I was going ballistic, but my teammates all helped me keep my composure by telling me that we’re going to be ok, we’re going to fight back and get it. I can only thank them for helping me out in that situation.”

Canada, also 5-0, is the Gold game opponent.

“It should be a great game,” said McKeown. “Canada played really, really well against Russia tonight. We’re going to have to really guard them. For fans of the World University Games, you’re going to see two teams that have had a great tournament. It should be a lot of fun.”

The USA is now 106-15 all-time at the World University Games with nine gold medals to its credit, plus six silver medals.

The USA has won gold medals in the past five WUGs in which it has competed (2001, 2005, 2009, 2011, 2013).

McKeown is assisted by collegiate coaches Holly Warlick from the University of Tennessee and Tanya Warren from the University of Northern Iowa.

USA started the medal round by trouncing Hungary 84-43.

Russell was key in the endgame on defense – as anyone familiar with the Tennessee tradition will appreciate – as USA won the third quarter, 26-7 and the fourth 19-9.

Russell did not have to do much, which will skew her overall statistics as others got playing time.

But McKeown continues to praise her. USA allowed its fewest points and held Hungary to 26 percent from the field.

“The way we’re playing defense just wore them out,” he said. “Because we are able to play so many people, it just changes the game on that end of the floor.”

He can only dream of such a top-level team in his real job, but he is enjoying the moments, as are his players in this tournament.

“Our defense is what separated us,” said Powers.

Players eligible for the 2015 USA World University Games teams must be U.S. citizens who currently are enrolled as full-time college students with remaining eligibility for the 2015-16 school year.

Held every other year, the World University Games is organized by the International University Sports Federation (FISU).

The WUGs are a multi-sport competition open to men and women who are between the ages of 17 and 24 (born between 1/1/88 and 12/31/98), who are enrolled as a full-time college student with remaining eligibility for the 2015-16 school year.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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