SYDNEY — A fair amount of uncertainty surrounded USA basketball as it entered a new chapter in the post-Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi era.
But in front of a crowd of 15,895 fans at the Sydney SuperDome – most of whom enthusiastically supported Team China – the redesigned Team USA successfully reinforced the legacy built by their predecessors by winning a fourth consecutive World Cup gold and 11th World Cup. Overall behind an 83-61 win over China in the final.
Just five players from the team that won Olympic gold for the seventh straight year in Tokyo competed for the red-white-blue in Sydney. Not a bird, Taurasi, Sylvia Fowles, Tina Charles or Brittney Griner. After years of distinguished roster for their experience and dignified demeanor, mostly featuring players from a handful of elite schools, the team that took the floor consisted instead of just one 30-year-old, representatives from 10 college programs and six freshmen in the senior national team at this level of competition. Even head coach Cheryl Reeve, who won four WNBA titles with the Minnesota Lynx, was freshly taking the helm of one of the greatest dynasties in the sport.
“Maybe they looked at it around the world and said, ‘Hey, now it’s time to get the US,'” Reeve said. “And I think what we’ve shown is that our league, the WNBA and the professional basketball players in the United States are really, really good. And the depth of the talent we have has been shown.”
Indeed, the USA went undefeated in group play, winning by an average margin of 40.75 points and ending with just one game decided by less than 15 points. Their 22-point win over China was also the biggest win in a World Cup final, according to FIBA.
The USA have lost only one game in a major international competition (World Cup or Olympic game) since 1994 – the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup against Russia – and since then have won 30 consecutive games in that tournament.
“We know that everyone wants to beat us. Everyone wants what we have and that’s gold medals and wins and things like that and with that comes pressure,” Stewart said. “We have great players who can handle that pressure and perform at their best.
“It’s easy to accept [pressure]not fighting it and knowing that all the legends in front of us, what they did, how they won, things like that, yeah every team is different and we have to put our stamp on history.”
With the win, the USA also officially qualified for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
While last year’s Olympic run in a COVID-19 bubble in Tokyo seemingly brought an element of heaviness as the US struggled to gain a foothold throughout the event, their 2022 World Cup experience was one of fun and ease. With her hair drenched in champagne at the post-game press conference, Reeve nudged Wilson lightly for finally figuring out where she should be in the gold medal game and for giving up 18 points on defense in the first half. Bottle of champagne in hand, Wilson spent much of her second championship presser in two weeks showing off the Tissot watch she had earned as tournament MVP.
“By my watch, we’re gold medalists,” Wilson said. And later: “[In the quarterfinals] Serbia came out and hit us in the mouth. And I said, ‘Not under our supervision.’”
In other words: the children are doing well in the USA.
“I wanted them to make sure this tournament was fun,” Reeve said. “I think sometimes you might have pressure to win or the perceived pressure, that takes the fun out of it. And I wanted to make sure we enjoyed this trip and I thought this group was a great group. I know I enjoyed the hell out and I hope they did too.”
Players across the board agreed with this opinion. And most frightening for the competition? The younger, new-look USA isn’t going anywhere and has no plans for the fun to stop anytime soon.
“I don’t think we’re showing any signs of stopping, that’s for sure,” Stewart said. “Our age has definitely decreased [compared to Tokyo]. But we have a lot of people who are just new to the league and entering their prime, in their prime. It’s hard to stop.”
Silver medalist China made their first World Cup final since 1994 and also won their last medal at a major international competition. Hosts Australia clinched the bronze medal after a 95-65 win over Canada in which former WNBA MVP and champion Lauren Jackson, who is not retired and plays at 41, dropped 30 points in her last game for the Opals.
Wilson’s World Cup MVP honor was another accolade after she took home her second WNBA MVP honor, the honor of First Defensive Player of the Year and her first WNBA title of the season. She was joined in the All-Star Five by Bridget Carleton (Canada), Han Xu (China), Stewart (USA) and Steph Talbot (Australia).
“I’ve been here before, I’ve had players where A’ja is where you win a WNBA championship, you come over and win gold,” Reeve said. “It’s really, really special. And they make it look easy. It’s not. They’re tremendously talented. A’ja Wilson is tremendously talented.”
“That’s why you sacrifice,” Wilson added. “My teammates hold me accountable. They put me in the best situation so I didn’t really feel tired. That’s what we live for. It’s honestly my job and I love my job. I love what I do and now I can.” go to sleep. I’m so excited. My bed is literally calling my name.”
Fresh from winning the WNBA title less than two weeks ago, Team USA’s Las Vegas Aces trio have Chelsea Gray (the 2022 Finals MVP), A’ja Wilson (the 2022 WNBA MVP) and Kelsey Plum (a first-time All-Star and all -WNBA selections) were added to their trophy cabinet after a tumultuous streak in which they joined forces with the US team long after preparations for the event began – in fact, they didn’t show up until Game 3 of the tournament.
Amid USA’s somewhat sluggish start to the championship game, the trio were sensational in the Finals, collectively scoring 46 of USA’s 83 points. Wilson had 16 points in 16:35 in the first half to carry Team USA. After a five-point game late in the first quarter and a 10-point game at halftime, USA broke out with a 25-14 lead in the third and secured a comfortable lead ahead of the fourth.
Jewell Loyd was the other Team USA member to finish with 11 points.
China was without Li Meng, the top scorer of the teams’ first meeting in group stage, due to illness, a 14-point victory for the USA. America’s Kahleah Copper was sidelined for the second straight game after injuring her hip in the quarterfinals. Alyssa Thomas went down in the second half with an upper body injury but returned to the game after brief treatment in the dressing room. Wu Tongtong also had to be carried off the ground in the fourth quarter after an apparent knee injury.
In their first tournament as the team’s leader, WNBA MVPs Breanna Stewart and Wilson successfully carried the mantle they inherited from Bird, Taurasi and Fowles. But the newcomers made an immediate impact, too, and none more so than Alyssa Thomas, whose teammates considered her their “glue” and “this tournament’s MVP” ahead of the championship.
“I don’t see it as a burden. I think it’s just a stepping stone,” Wilson said. “We are planting seeds for the next generation.
“It’s crazy because Stewie and I took a selfie, we were like, ‘There’s so many more to come.’ I remember playing U16 with Stewie and winning a gold medal there and now we’re winning medals at that level. So it was incredible, just the journey to continue laying that foundation. So many of the great ones who have been at the forefront of ours have made it happen, and now it’s our turn to stand up and be in this position.
But the newcomers made an immediate impact, too, and none more so than Thomas, as teammates considered them their “glue” and “this tournament’s MVP” ahead of the championship.
With Thomas as one of the voices, Reeves’ group – initially set up during February’s World Cup qualifying tournament – was able to adopt a defensive identity not typical of the US national team in recent years. Reeve pointed out that Team USA had 42 deflections against China in the gold medal matchup. All the more impressive that eight players from Team USA arrived in Sydney late, including five who were playing in the WNBA Finals and arriving during the week of the tournament.
“What I appreciate most is the trust and support,” said Reeve. “Go back to Las Vegas and to the group we had, go back to February and they helped us build that identity. And then great players like A’ja came along and got us over the hill and kept the legacy. “
https://www.espn.com/olympics/story/_/id/34699802/new-look-usa-win-11th-world-cup-title New-look Team USA wins fourth straight gold at FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup