The United States is headed to the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup Semifinals after defeating Nigeria, 71-40, in the quarterfinals. Breanna Stewart led Team USA with 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field while A’ja Wilson added 11 points. For Nigeria, Evelyn Akhator led all scorers on her team with eight points.
Here are some takeaways from Friday’s game.
The whole game, but especially the fourth quarter, was a defensive clinic
There was little doubt that Team USA was going to win the game, but the 17-9 first-quarter lead by Nigeria was a surprise. Yes, Nigeria was leading during much of the first half, but it wasn’t like they were scoring many points after that point, as Team USA’s defense started clamping down from that point forward.
The USA pulled away in the second half and really got going in the fourth quarter when they scored 25 points and held Nigeria to just 5 points in the final period.
For the entire game, Team USA allowed Nigeria to shoot only 25 percent from the field and out-rebounded Nigeria, 62-32. These numbers are nothing short of fantastic.
Turnovers plagued the USA
Team USA may have the most talent, but they are not playing consistently. The Americans turned the ball over 23 times on Friday, which contributed to their slow start. Fortunately, their defense and the Nigerians’ lack of star talent prevented those 23 turnovers from turning into easy scoring opportunities; Nigeria only scored eight points off of those turnovers. Nigeria also committed 22 turnovers of their own, so that also helped the USA keep this game in their grasp early on.
A turnover-heavy game just can’t happen again in the semifinals, given that France and Belgium have been practicing together much longer and have strong guard play — something Team USA doesn’t have once Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are on the bench. Jewell Loyd was scoreless despite playing over 25 minutes, while Layshia Clarendon and Kelsey Plum all had inefficient shooting performances.
Does Team USA have enough time to get things together before the semifinals and beyond?
The United States came into the World Cup looking to do just enough to win their way into the quarterfinals. But, from here on, the Americans will be playing three games in three days. This is when players are going to get very tired and, in the past, that’s when their talent starts to show, even against a world power like France or Spain.
Unlike past World Cup teams, when a superstar starting five was replaced by a reserve team of superstars, this team has two players, Plum and Morgan Tuck, who haven’t made an All-Star team yet. And Loyd is shooting just 30 percent from the field despite playing 22 minutes per game. Yes, all three players are very young but Wilson, on the other hand, has played excellent basketball as a reserve post — shooting nearly 61 percent from the field and averaging 14.5 points per game.
The Americans’ rotations are going to tighten in the semifinals and beyond, whether for the gold or bronze medals. After all, the remaining teams in this World Cup are all very talented. But most of them have prepared together for weeks or months this summer while the Americans haven’t because of the compressed WNBA season. Though the USA is still the gold medal favorite, they will have to dig deeper than they have in quite some time to be victorious on Saturday and Sunday.