Last time you probably saw the Oregon Ducks women’s basketball team, they were putting together a historic 33-win season as they marched to their second straight Elite Eight. But right now, four players from that team are competing as Team USA in the FIBA 3x3 World Cup in Manila, Philippines.
NCAA career triple-double queen Sabrina Ionescu, along with Erin Boley, Ruthy Hebard, and Otiona Gildon make up the United States team that picked up two wins in Friday night’s action (Saturday afternoon action in the Philippines) in rout fashion, taking down Iran 21-7 and Andorra 21-6.
Let’s talk about 3x3 basketball and what to expect from Team USA as the tournament progresses.
What is 3x3?
In 3x3, teams of four players (three plus a substitute) compete in a fast-paced, half-court basketball game. It’s probably similar to what you played on the playground as a kid, except this time there are trained referees to call the fouls.
Before each game, there’s a coin flip where the winner can either take first possession or defer until a potential overtime period. The game itself is regulated by a ten-minute clock, but if a team reaches 21 points before time expires, the game ends early. Players get one point for a shot made inside the arc and two points for one made outside it, and there’s a 12-second shot clock in play to keep the game moving. More basics of the game can be found on FIBA’s website.
FIBA stepped in to regulate 3x3 at an international level in 2007, when it included 3x3 as a test event in the Asian Indoor Games. In 2009, the game took the international stage for the first time at the Asian Youth Games. It will make its Olympics debut at the Tokyo 2020 games.
The FIBA 3x3 World Cup, the premier 3x3 tournament, began in 2012. While it was initially played in only even years, the tournament has been played every year since 2016.
The United States 3x3 national championships took place in April, where the Oregon Ducks ran the table on its opponents, going 8-0 and winning the championship game by a staggering score of 21-5. While six teams were made up of players from several universities, Oregon was joined by Colorado, Washington, New Mexico, Arizona State, and Denver as teams made up of players from a single school.
But Oregon’s victory didn’t guarantee its inclusion in the World Cup. The pool of players from which USA Basketball chose the team still consisted of all 48 participants in the national championships. However, Gildon and Hebard have prior 3x3 experience as part of the second-place team at last year’s nationals, while Boley played for USA in the U18 3x3 World Cup, taking home silver. Meanwhile, Ionescu had never played 3x3 (and wasn’t even familiar with the rules) until this year, but she picked up the game quickly and was named tournament MVP at nationals.
Twenty teams, selected and seeded by their FIBA 3x3 rankings, are currently competing in pool play. The United States has the 13-seed, while China has the top seed.
There are four pools, and each is made up of five teams, so in pool play, each team is guaranteed four games. The top two teams from each pool advance to the quarterfinals, four teams go to the semifinals, and the final two teams compete for the 3x3 World Cup title.
While Team USA has already played its first two games, the team is back in action Sunday night (United States time) at 11:50 p.m. ET against Uganda and 1:20 a.m. ET against Russia. Games are broadcast on ESPN3.
Should the United States advance to the final rounds, the quarterfinals take place Monday night, the semifinals are early Tuesday morning, and the third-place game and final are at more reasonable Tuesday morning times. For exact times, read below or check out the FIBA schedule (hints: make sure to switch to the women’s schedule, and know that Manila time is 12 hours ahead of United States Eastern time).
What to watch for
Despite its 5-seed, Russia are the defending champions and the heavy favorites to take home a second straight title. Similar to the United States, they blew past Uganda and Andorra in their first two games Saturday, winning 22-8 and 21-9.
According to the ESPN3 broadcasters during Saturday’s games, the United States is seen more as a “dark horse” this year than a traditional power. While the United States did win the first two 3x3 World Cups in 2012 and 2014, they finished in third place in 2016 and did not participate in 2017.
This year’s USA team has four players that know each other and their playing styles intimately, having played on the same University of Oregon team. In their first two games, they demonstrated their comfort with the fast play that 3x3 is known for, crashing the offensive glass and keeping fouls down while dominating their opponents.
However, they have so far struggled from beyond the arc, their three 2-pointers against Iran being their only ones in the tournament so far. In order to keep competing, especially against a strong Russia team later this weekend, they’ll need to get something going from outside.
When to watch
USA vs. Uganda, Sunday at 11:50 p.m. ET
USA vs. Russia, Monday at 1:20 a.m. ET
Quarterfinals: Tuesday at 1:40 a.m. ET and 4:05 a.m. ET (for Pool C)
Semifinals: Tuesday at 5:45 a.m. ET and 6:15 a.m. ET
Bronze medal game: Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. ET
Gold medal final: Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. ET