United States trounces Japan

Published 12:11 pm Wednesday, July 29, 2009

BANGKOK, Thailand – Notre Dame incoming freshman guard and United States co-captain Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) scored 11 points, including three three-pointers in a 42-second span early in the first quarter, as the USA trounced Japan, 109-68, on Wednesday in its final Group F second-round contest at the FIBA U19 World Championships inside the Bangkok Thai-Japan Youth Center in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Americans (5-1) picked up their fifth consecutive victory and earned the No. 2 seed in Group F for the medal round, which gets underway with quarterfinal action Friday, when the United States faces France at 4:15 a.m. ET (3:15 p.m. local).

Diggins’ three-point barrage was part of a balanced effort for Team USA, as six different players scored in double figures, led by 15 points from Taber Spani and 14 points from LaSondra Barrett. No American played more than 25 minutes in the game (Diggins saw 18 minutes of court time, adding two rebounds and two steals while going 4-of-6 from the field, 3-of-4 beyond the arc) and all 12 players in uniform found their way into the scorebook.

As a team, the United States posted its best shooting performance of the tournament, connecting at a .523 clip from the floor (45-of-86), including a sharp 10-of-19 (.526) from the three-point line. The Stars & Stripes also claimed a massive 49-28 rebounding edge and forced 16 Japanese turnovers, 13 of those coming on steals.

Rateisa Fukano led a quartet of double-figure scorers for Japan (2-4) with a game-high 15 points.

“Overall this is the best we’ve shot since we’ve been here,” said Carol Owens, USA and Northern Illinois University head coach (and an assistant coach at Notre Dame from 1996-2005). “We hit 10-for-19 from the three-point line and 52 percent from the field. I’m pleased with that. Our goal is to realize that if we have an advantage over a team, we need to be able to execute to make that work in our favor. After we hit some shots they had to guard us from the outside. That left some space for our posts. After we dumped it into our posts, we were able to get it outside and get some shots from there.”

The U.S. put the first points on the board after co-captain Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who finished with seven points and five boards, hit a pair of free throws at 8:52. Japan tied the game up at 2-all, but behind a Samantha Prahalis driving basket and two from Kelsey Bone on the inside, the U.S. was up 6-2. Japan, which went 9-of-30 from three-point range in the contest, hit a three to close to a point, 6-5, at 7:43.

Fourteen seconds later, Diggins found herself wide open with the ball on the outside and swished in the first of her threes. After a Japan turnover, Diggins was again allowed to take an uncontested shot from afar and after a Japan three, Diggins hit her third of the game at 6:47 to give the U.S. a 15-8 lead.

“They sagged and we penetrated,” said Diggins. “I was standing there one time, just thinking ‘oh my goodness, should I reverse the ball?’ and she backed up. So I shot it. Coach was like ‘you hit two, let’s see you put it up again.’ They were just falling.”

Diggins’ third trey kicked off a 12-0 run that was capped by a Prahalis three and left the United States in command 24-8 with 4:38 still to play in the first quarter. Continuing to overmatch Japan, the U.S. closed the period up 33-16.

The USA, which won all four quarters, went up 58-35 at halftime, 80-52 at the end of the third period and outscored Japan 27-16 in the fourth.

“We pulled away and at halftime we talked about not getting complacent because we were up by so much and that they had to see the big picture,” Owens said. “We knew we needed to use that time to be able to work on some things and be able to work on our defense, especially our man-to-man defense. That was our emphasis, playing to the expectations of our USA team.”

“We just need to keep playing our game,” Diggins added. “We’re playing some of our best basketball right now. We shot the ball the best we have since we’ve been here. We have to take this momentum and carry it over to the medal round. We have a day off (Thursday) and I’m sure we’ll talk about some things. I’m sure we’ll watch some games and check some people out. We’ll try to stay mentally focused and get mentally prepared for the next round.”

The United States and France will be meeting for the second time in 11 days when they square off in Friday’s medal round quarterfinal at the Bangkok Thai-Japan Youth Center. Back on July 20, the Americans defeated France, 86-46 in a friendly exhibition held just prior to the start of the FIBA U19 World Championships. France, the recently-crowned European U18 silver medalist, also features several players who were on their country’s Junior National Team when it played Notre Dame in an exhibition on May 11 in Paris – a game won by the Fighting Irish, 77-44, to open their 10-day European tour.

With a victory over France, the United States would advance to Saturday’s semifinals against either Australia (6-0) or Canada (3-3) at 6:30 a.m. ET (5:30 p.m. local). The Americans defeated Canada, 64-50, during Group F play on Monday – Diggins missed that game due to an illness. The other quarterfinal matchups on Friday will feature Argentina against Russia and Lithuania against Spain, with the winners of those games meeting Saturday for a spot in the tournament final.

The U19 World Championships gold medal game will be played Sunday at 7 a.m. ET (6 p.m. local). The full tournament schedule is available on the USA Basketball U19 National Team web page at www.usabasketball.com, and the official 2009 FIBA U19 World Championships web page at thailand2009.fiba.com.