United States tops Canada for spot in finals

Published 4:47 pm Saturday, August 1, 2009

BANGKOK, Thailand Notre Dame incoming freshman guard and United States U19 National Team co-captain Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) scored eight of her 11 points during a mammoth 27-0 first-quarter run as the USA advanced to the gold medal game of the FIBA World Championships with an 82-51 semifinal win over Canada on Saturday at the Bangkok Thai-Japan Youth Center in Bangkok, Thailand. The two-time defending U19 World Championship gold medalist Americans (7-1) will get the chance to avenge their lone loss at this year’s U19 Worlds when they square off with Spain (8-0) in the title game on Sunday at 6 p.m.

Diggins, who did not face Canada during the teams’ matchup in pool play because of an illness, connected on 4-of-9 shots from the field (2-of-4 from three-point range), while adding a game-high three assists and two steals in 20 minutes of action. The United States had another balanced offensive attack with four players scoring in double figures, led by 16 points from Kelsey Bone and 12 points from co-captain Nnemkadi Ogwumike. Thanks to its first-quarter scoring blitz, the Stars & Stripes were able to keep their roster fresh with no one playing more than 20 minutes in the game.

As a team, the USA shot 44.9 percent from the field (35-of-78) and held a slim 39-34 rebounding advantage. The difference in Saturday’s contest came through the Americans’ aggressive defense which caused 24 Canadian turnovers, with 19 of those coming on U.S. steals. Making its first-ever appearance in the U19 World Championship semifinals, Canada also shot only 31.6 percent from the field (18-of-57), including a 13-minute stretch without a field goal between the first and second quarters. Kayla Alexander had a team-high 12 points for the Maple Leafs (4-4), who will play Argentina for the bronze medal on Sunday.

“It feels very good, very good (to be playing for the gold medal),” said Carol Owens, USA and Northern Illinois University head coach (and an assistant coach at Notre Dame from 1996-2005. “I told the team we’ve got one more game. They’re excited and I think they have to be looking forward to this opportunity.”

To say the U.S. dominated the first half would be a vast understatement.

Canada’s Nicole Larke hit a 3-pointer at 9:27 for the game’s first points. However, Canada’s lead was short-lived as the USA kept its neighbors to the north from hitting another field goal for more than 13 minutes.

Ogwumike got a put-back at 9:03 and after Canada missed three attempts, Bone put up her first points to give her side a lead it would never relinquish at 8:23, 4-3. Forcing nine Canadian turnovers in the first period and holding their opponents to a frigid 1-of-12 shooting from the field in the opening stanza, the U.S. strung together a 27-0 scoring spree in just over six minutes and at 2:50 the U.S. was up 27-3. After sending Canada to the line for four tries, the first buzzer sounded with the scoreboard showing a lopsided 27-6 tally.
The second quarter was more of the same as the USA reeled off 12 unanswered points before Canada netted its second field goal of the game at 6:08.

Between its game-opening three and its eighth point of the contest, Canada hit just three free throws in a span of 13:19 and trailed the two-time defending U19 world champion by an insurmountable 31 points, 39-8.

“We’re glad to be here,” Diggins said. “We really came out intense today, trying to take care of business early. We set the tone early tonight. Everybody came out with so much energy. You could tell we were having so much fun out there. That’s also a big reason why we’re here. We came here to have a good time and to take care of business at the same time. You could definitely see that in the opening half.”

By halftime the lead was 50-18 and Canada never seriously threatened as the U.S. cruised through the second half for the semifinal win.

“I think we only had three turnovers in the first half and then there was a point in the third quarter where we kind of got on a little spurt where we turned the ball over too much,” Owens commented. “We called a time out to talk about that. So I want to take care of the ball better. Sometimes you look at the score and you get out of hand. We have to be mature enough to really work on things that we need to work on, even if you’re up by a sizeable amount.”

Spain, which defeated Argentina, 67-49, in Saturday’s other semifinal to book its first-ever trip to the U19 World final, set the tone for its run to the gold medal game with a 90-86 upset win over the United States on the tournament opener on July 23. In that contest, the Americans trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half, but rallied to take a five-point lead early in the fourth quarter before the Spaniards rallied to retake the lead and held off a frantic USA rally for the victory. The U.S., which saw its 18-game winning streak at the U19 World Championships snapped, was hampered by both foul trouble (33) and turnover problems (20) in the loss, which also saw Spain connect on 8-of-17 three-pointers (47.1 percent).