USA earns third-straight FIBA World Cup gold with 73-56 victory over Australia
Postgame Press Conference
SAN CRISTOBAL DE LA LAGUNA, TENERIFE, SPAIN – “The World Championship, now the World Cup, is always the hardest one to win,” said veteran USA guard Diana Taurasi after her squad took down Australia 73-56 to win a record third-straight FIBA World Cup gold medal Sunday night in Spain’s Canary Islands.
“It’s a grind, it’s physically tough and mentally tough. When you talk about playing three games in three nights, you just don’t do that anymore as a pro” continued Taurasi referencing the event’s grueling schedule. “This is the only tournament that challenges you in that way.”
Team USA wasted no time in getting started against Australia, taking off on a 10-0 run over the first four minutes of play. Katie Ebzery finally got the Aussies on the board at the 6:06 mark, cutting the U.S. lead that had already decreased back to single digits, but Brittney Griner’s turnaround jumper less than 10 seconds later stretched the American advantage to 11 points (13-2) by the halfway point in the first quarter, after she also converted the traditional three-point play.
Stanford senior Alanna Smith got the Aussies back in gear with a fast-break layup at the 4:15 mark, and followed that up with another on Australia’s next trip down the floor.
Breanna Stewart, who played the 3 position for this event, drained a three on an assist from Taurasi to make it 16-6, USA, with 3:34 to go.
Liz Cambage finally got one of her shots to fall a few seconds later, to cut the U.S. lead to eight (16-8), holding the Americans to nothing but free throws while commencing a 7-2 run capped by an Alex Bunton jumper, to close the gap to just one possession with under a minute remaining.
Taurasi added two from the line in the remaining seconds, and though Australia turned the ball over in the waning seconds of the period, Taurasi’s buzzer-beating three-point attempt was off the mark, leaving the Americans on top, 20-15, at the end of the quarter.
Cambage was not on the floor at the start of the second period. Jewell Loyd netted a layup to get the party started, as the Australians continued to struggle to find their stroke.
Cambage reentered the game roughly one-and-a-half minutes into the period, with the U.S. holding on to a 22-15 lead, and was greeted with booing from the Spaniards who had remained in the arena to watch the gold-medal game. Cambage has said she uses the heckling to motivate her, and promptly capitalized on Smith’s interception of a bad pass by Layshia Clarendon to knock down a jumper and silence the crowd.
Loyd dropped in another layup, and Clarendon redeemed herself by picking off a bad pass from Sami Whitcomb, which Stewart took in for another layup to set the score at 26-17, USA.
Neither side was able to move the scoreboard over the next two minutes until Australian phenom, 19 year-old Ezi Magbegor drove for a layup. Stewart fouled Steph Talbot, who made both of her penalty shots, closing the gap to five points (26-21) just outside the midway point of the period.
Griner made one of a pair from the charity stripe, and Stewart picked off a bad pass from Cambage, but Taurasi coughed it back up, and Magbegor drove it in for a layup on the fast break.
Magbegor sent Tina Charles to the line, where she knocked down both penalty shots. Griner blocked Talbot’s attempt at a layup, and Sue Bird took a feed from Seattle Storm teammate Stewart and drained a three to push the U.S. lead to nine, 32-29, with 3:28 remaining.
Cambage blocked a Charles hook shot, but Talbot’s attempted trey was off the mark, and the Americans recovered the board. Allen then fouled Taurasi who was in the process of shooting from beyond the arc, and Taurasi knocked down all three of her penalty points, to make the score 35-23, U.S.A., with two-and-a-half minutes remaining.
Australia answered with back-to-back jumpers from Bec Allen and Katie Ebzery, as the U.S. struggled to score from both inside and outside over the next two minutes. U.S. head coach Dawn Staley called timeout with 27 seconds to go in the half, but the break did little to cure the late-second-period U.S. scoring drought. Talbot’s three-point attempt to close out the quarter bounced off the rim, and the first half concluded with Team USA riding a 35-37 lead.
Taurasi had 10 points to her credit by halftime, but seven of those came at the line as she struggled to score. The American defense had managed to hold Cambage to just four points in the opening half, but she made her presence felt elsewhere, collecting what was then a game-high seven rebounds and blocking two shots.
Neither side was shooting the ball well in what was already turning into a largely defensive contest. By the half, Team USA had managed to land only nine of its 36 shot attempts (25 percent) from the field.
Australia was enjoying only slightly better field-goal shooting, converting 12 of its 39 shots (31 percent) from the floor. Neither side was doing well from long distance either, with the Americans netting four of their 11 three-point attempts (36 percent) while Australia netted just one of its 12 (8 percent).
One key difference to that point in the game was in penalty shots. Thirteen of the 35 U.S. points had come at the foul line where the Americans converted 13 of 15 (87 percent). In contrast, Australia made just two trips to the line, though they did knock down both.
The two sides were battling nearly equally on the backboards, with Australia coming out on top, 27-26. Still, the United States accumulated six second-chance points of its seven offensive rebounds, whereas Australia tallied just three points from its seven offensive boards.
Because the American depth has been an enormous part of its team’s success, one statistic stood out in particular: Australia’s bench had been far more effective, contributing 15 points, to just four for Team USA.
The third period has been critical for the Americans, and Sue Bird got things started off strongly, netting a trey out of the gate on an assist from Charles. Griner followed that up with a layup on a dish from Taurasi, stretching the lead to 13 (40-27), as Australia tallied nothing but personal fouls.
Australia seemed to be forcing its shots in the face on an intense U.S. defensive effort. Ebzery’s jumper from close range hit nothing but air. Taurasi was called for a foul on Cambage, who was by then being heckled and booed every time she was in the same zip code as the basketball. In the face of the jeering, she missed both of her free throws.
Cambage missed a hook shot, and Stewart how it was done on America’s next possession, swelling the U.S. lead to 15 (42-27) with 6:29 to go. A minute later, Cambage thanked the WNBA MVP by swatting down her attempted layup. After both sides exchanged multiple misses, Nneka Ogwumike fed Griner for a hook deep in the key to make it 44-27, Team USA, nearing the halfway mark of the quarter.
Australia rallied behind a 5-0 mini-run over the next minute-and-a-half, as Bunton netted a jumper and Smith drained a three. Stewart answered with one of a pair from the line, but Ogwumike grabbed the missed penalty shot, and fed it to Griner for a jumper deep in the key. Griner was fouled in the process, and converted the conventional three-point play, but Australia answered nearly immediately with a trey by Smith.
Sue Bird fed Ogwumike, who netted a jumper, to make the score 49-35, U.S.A., with three-and-a-half minutes to go. Taurasi, subbing in for Bird, followed that up with a triple on an assist from Loyd. Seconds later, Griner picked up her third personal, putting Cambage at the line where she made one of the pair.
Staley left Griner on the floor, and Griner proved the wisdom of that decision, following up an Ogwumike jumper with a turnaround jumper. Fouled in the process by Cambage, Griner missed the free throw, but Elena Delle Donne collected the offensive rebound, and sent it back to Griner, who drove for a layup. The game by now had turned into a 58-38 rout, and with just a little over a minute to go in the period, Staley gave Griner a seat on the bench.
In the final minute of the third, Loyd made one at the line, then missed her second, rebounded her own miss and sent it out to Delle Donne, who netted a floater to finish out the third-period scoring for both sides. The buzzer sounded with the U.S. now up by 23 points, 61-38.
Ebzery and A’ja Wilson traded jumpers to open the scoring for the final frame. Beyond that, neither side was able to score over the first three minutes until Magbegor netted a turnaround jumper for Australia at the 7:08 mark, making the score 63-42. In the interim, Cambage had picked up her third personal foul and taken a seat on the bench, as both sides seemed to accumulate more personal fouls than points.
Clarendon answered a minute later with a jumper for the United States, and Talbot dropped in a pair from the foul line.
As the game entered its final five minutes, the outcome was already well beyond doubt. Staley had already emptied her bench, which did not make for beautiful basketball. No further scoring occurred until Ogwumike fed Morgan Tuck who knocked down a jumper from deep in the key.
Out of an Aussie timeout, Cambage returned to the floor. Tess Madgen put in jumper to whittle away at the gap. Despite the jeering of the crowd, Cambage converted two free throws.
Loyd finally put some points on the board again, as Ogwumike picked off a pass from Whitcomb, and tossed it to Loyd, who flew coast-to-coast for the fast-break layup. Jenna O’Hea answered with an alley oop, to which Kelsey Plum with a short jumper.
With less than two minutes remaining, and the U.S. still riding a 71-50 lead, Australian coach Sandy Brondello once again sent Cambage to the bench.
Ogwumike picked up her fourth personal foul, sending Bunton to the line, where she made one of the pair. Loyd drew a foul from Madgen, making both of the penalty shots.
With 32 seconds to go, O’Hea knocked down a jumper, and Tess Lavey beat the buzzer with a long three-pointer to set the final margin at 73-56, as the United States successfully defended its world championship title and satisfied its goal of a third consecutive World Cup gold.
Three American players finished the night in double figures led by Griner, who won player of the game honors, putting up 15 points to go with three rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks. Taurasi added 13 points, including two-of-four from downtown. Her field-goal shooting was atypically poor as she netted just two of her eight attempts (25 percent) and none of her shots from two-point range. But she was able to get herself to the line, where she netted a near perfect seven of her eight (88 percent) penalty shots. She also handed out four assists to go with three rebounds. Breanna Stewart added 10 points, including two-of-four from long distance. She also led the Americans on the backboards, where she gathered up eight rebounds to go with two assists and a steal.
Bird broke Staley’s U.S. record for career assists in World Cup play, passing out a team-high five dimes.
The United States would set no records this night for field-goal shooting, connecting on just 25 of its 71 (35 percent) attempts from the field and six of its 19 (32 percent) shots from beyond the arc. Eighteen of those 25 baskets came from assists.
But Staley has said previously that she will take the win any way she can get it, and in this case the Americans were able to get the job done and then some.
Their defense held the usually prolific scorers from Australia to just 22-of-67 (33 percent) from the field and four-of-22 (18 percent) from long range. They forced Australia into 19 ball-handling errors to just 12 for Team USA.
The two teams battled more or less evenly in the paint (30-28, in favor of the United States) and on the backboards, with Australia edging out the U.S. in rebounding, 49-46. Each side hauled down 14 offensive boards, but the U.S. made more of the opportunities, with 15 second-chance points to nine for Australia.
Staley gave one of her assistant coaches credit for devisiong an effective plan to shutdown Cambage.
“Jen (Rizzotti) gave us a great scout on Australia,” said Staley. “We saw, coming into this World Cup, we would have to figure out, if we met them, how to play her. And you think of all these game plans. You think of plan A, B, C, then Brittney (Griner) started us off. And from there, we didn’t have to go to a B, C or D, because she was the model defender in playing Cambage at the start of the game. Kudos for her for locking in and accepting the challenge.”
Prior to the medal ceremony, FIBA announced the All-Star five for the tournament. The honorees included Liz Cambage of Australia, whom the crowd had apparently forgiven, greeting her announcement with applause. But there would be one more punch in the gut for Cambage: After failing in her quest to bring home the gold to Australia, she stood watching from the sidelines as the flags of the three winners were raised while the United States national anthem played. Regrettably, the Australian emblem fell from its place on the left side of the riser, signifying the team’s second-place finish, and fell unceremoniously into the stands to “oohs” from the crowd.
Cambage was joined in the All-Star five by Belgium’s Emma Meesseman; Spain’s Astou Ndour, who was announced to cheers of “MVP,” and Breanna Taurasi and Dianna Taurasi of the United States.
Stewart took home top honors as the tournament MVP after averaging 16.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game over the course of the event.
Earlier in the day, France defeated China, 81-67, to finish in fifth place, with China placing sixth. Canada edged out Nigeria, 73-72, to take seventh place, while Nigeria ended up in eighth place.
USA head coach Dawn Staley
On the significance of being the first USA World Cup gold medalist as an athlete, assistant coach and head coach:
USA Basketball is ingrained in me. I grew up from an unruly young lady, to maturing in a system that allowed me to grow and mature and aspire to become a coach, when I didn’t want to be a coach a day in my life. But once I started coaching, I knew that USA Basketball was a place in which I wanted to be a part. Because it’s so pure, it’s so different from any other arena in our sport. I’m super proud. I’m super proud, because I get to share it with our coaching staff, and most important, I get to share it with Sue (Bird) and Diana (Taurasi), who were teammates of mine, who embraced me as their coach. For me, from afar, I’ve admired them. Being teammates with them, being in the locker room with them, and knowing that they’re just winners. They’re winners. They’re leaders. They’re people who have made a commitment to USA Basketball much like myself. It makes it really special.
At the beginning of the month when you didn’t know who would be on the team, you said you were just going to work with what you’ve got and make it work. Can you talk about that journey?
The journey was tough in that it was hard to home in on 12. We always had more than 12. For the players who helped us on the journey, I feel a sense of pride for them, because they allowed us to grow and prepare. They weren’t part of the final 12, but I want them to know they helped us win today. These players are the top players in our game. Could we as coaches need more time to prep? Yes. But, they pick up on things fairly easily. They have a way of playing with each other. They’re smart. They’ve been around the game a long time. For me, as a coach and our coaching staff, we just wanted to make sure we didn’t get in the way of them being successful. They’re the ones that got us this gold medal, and I’m proud to be a part of that.
On winning her fourth World Cup gold medal:
It’s pretty crazy. I think that this time around, you never know if you’re going to be back. And now it’s my fifth time being in the World Cup. I really just want to cherish these moments. I’m just trying to take it all in, really soak it in and enjoy it. This was a very tough tournament and for us to be able to put it together and win says a lot about the character of this group, and I couldn’t be prouder.
It’s not about me. When our groups get together, when our teams get together and we’re preparing, it’s about the team. Everybody puts their individual goals aside, and we’re just trying to win the gold medal. For me, I’ve played on some amazingly talented teams throughout the years and it’s that. All my teammates pushed me, I try to push them and we try to win gold medals.
What makes this one special?
I think this time around for me personally, obviously because it’s the fifth, fourth gold medal but fifth tournament, and coming off a long WNBA season, there wasn’t a lot of preparation time. As a point guard, I try to pride myself on having control and helping my teammates out. But, it was really a crash course on learning everything. So, the whole tournament was kind of like trying to figure it out on the fly, and we finally did on that last game. To actually accomplish that feels really good right now.
On the tough schedule:
Listen, three games in a row? I’m lucky if I play back-to-backs in the WNBA. It’s a question mark. Three game in a row? And the other thing about these games is, they are very intense. Teams are picking up full court. They are pressuring you for 40 minutes. For these other countries, they’ve been chomping at the bit, waiting for these games. We’ve just come off seasons. Three games in a row is tough. And then to your point, different from the Olympics, we don’t get the training time. For the Olympics, we usually have a week, two weeks probably, where we are all together, one place, one time. This is like, I mean, me, Stewie (Breanna Stewart), Jewell (Loyd) and Elena (Delle Donne) got here two days before the first game. So, those are all challenges. It’s what makes it very difficult for us, and, again, what makes it so satisfying when we do accomplish our goal.
On the USA’s three-straight World Cups and becoming the first player to win four World Cup golds:
I don’t know if I can put it into perspective. I think there’s times when, because I’m still in it, I don’t know necessarily see the bigger picture of it all. I think it’s not necessarily anything I’ve done other than try to stay healthy and try stay on top of my game. The combination of that, and just continue to get better. In any facet of the game that you can, just continue to get better. And I’ve tried to pride myself on that and put myself in a position to be available, to be honest. So, I think when it is all said and done, that’s kind of another milestone under my name. I can look back on it and be super proud. We’ve talked a lot about this. The last couple of years, I really had to make a concerted effort to get back to myself. So to know that it worked, it’s nice. It’s a nice feeling.
Was it fitting that it was a 3-pointer by Diana Taurasi that earned you the USA’s all-time World Cup assists record?
I didn’t even know. Yeah, of course it’s fitting. How do I talk about five World Cups, four gold medals in those five opportunities and not talk about Diana (Taurasi)? Not talk about a lot of the teammates I’ve played with, but in particular Diana. We’ve been doing this for so long. I’ve seen her carry us. I’ve seen her be everything, and I’ve just been there to kind of watch at times. And, it’s been a lot of fun to watch her do what she does. So for her to help me get that, it is very fitting, because we’ve been doing this together. It’d almost be weird if she didn’t, to be honest.
On USA head coach Dawn Staley, who is the first person to win a World Cup gold as a player and as a coach:
Now that it is all said and done, I think the best thing about Dawn (Staley) is her demeanor. You never know what someone is going to be like as a head coach. Obviously, we’ve never played for her before this – yeah, some training camps, but that’s not the heat of the moment. And no matter what the scenario was, and like I said we had some not lows, but we had some obstacles. Belgium was a really tough team to play against. Nigeria, obviously, in that first half was challenging us. But Dawn’s demeanor is just so calm and so confident, and I really think that helped us, because what did we have six or seven newbies on this team? And these are tough games. The referees call it different – you have to adjust. Players play different – you have to adjust. And, it can get to you. And the crowd, it can get to you. I told them, my memory from 2006 (World Cup), of course losing, all of the sudden, I remember everybody in that arena, cheering for Russia, and that happens. Arenas can turn on you. And so, there is so much that can go on. Dawn the entire time – calm, cool. ‘Hey guys. We are worried about guarding them, but you know what? They have to guard us, too.’ It just kind of put it into a really nice perspective and allowed us to be calm, and that’s what we needed.
Do the obstacles make the gold more rewarding?
It makes it so much more rewarding. I think it’s funny, people probably see the horn go off, and they don’t see us jumping up and down and going crazy. I think part of it is because we’re tired, and I think the other part of it is the score plays a role in that. But these are tiring experiences, because you’re just so focused on trying to do the right thing, and learn, and figure things out and it can be really trying on you. So, the fact that we finally did put it together, trust me, the fact that we aren’t jumping up and down, it’s not because we are not happy.
On the Breanna Stewart:
It is well documented now. Stewie (Breanna Stewart) at the start of this year, so we are talking like April, really decided what she wanted to do with her basketball career. She wanted to be an MVP. She wanted to win a championship. She wanted to come here and put her mark on USA Basketball. And as a young player, that is not always easy, but she did that. And listen, this kid played out of position this entire tournament. Out of position – she was playing the three. Trust me when I tell you, she’ll tell you, too, she aint a three. That speaks volumes for somebody to be able to play out of position and still find a way to have an impact, a huge impact, an MVP-like impact on a game. So, she just continues to surprise and impress, and I’m very, very proud of her.
Will you be at the 2020 Olympic Games?
I mean, gosh, can I just enjoy this one? Listen, who wouldn’t love to play? If your country calls, you’re going. A lot rides on that. I’m about to be 38 in like two weeks. A lot can happen between now and then. But if the opportunity presents, I wouldn’t say no to it.
Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury)
On matching up against Australia’s Liz Cambage:
Just every time I go up against Cambage, it’s always a battle between both of us. It was a joint effort tonight. Everybody was just making it hard for her to catch the ball and get going. It swayed into our favor.
How does it feel to win your second World Cup gold medal?
Everything that everybody did and poured into the team to get to this point. It’s all worth it. The injuries, the tooth, it doesn’t matter. It’s all worth it when you have this around your neck.
How did you shut down Liz Cambage?
I just wanted to make it as hard as I can. We knew Liz was a big part of their offense and whenever we play each other, it’s always a big battle.
Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm)
On the USA qualifying for the Olympics:
Now that this World Cup is completed, I think the next thing that we look forward to is Tokyo, and I’m sure it is going to be an amazing Olympics. I think for USA Basketball just continuing to make sure that people are ready. If we don’t have people, then next person up and that kind of mentality.
On winning FIBA World Cup and WNBA Finals MVP:
It’s not a bad year. It’s not a bad way to cap things off, and now it is time for a little vacation.
On the game:
Defensively, we had the right mindset. BG (Brittney Griner) came up huge against Cambage. Obviously, Cambage is a great player. We knew how to win it, and that’s what we did.
How does it feel to win your second World Cup gold medal?
Honestly, I’m just really happy to be able to have done this with this group. We haven’t been together for very long. But, the goal was to win the gold medal, and we accomplished that.
How have you enjoyed this tournament?
This has been an amazing World Cup. I’ve only been to one other in Istanbul, but, obviously, the way that they put it on for all these teams was amazing.
On winning her third MVP honor this year after WNBA and WNBA Finals:
It’s definitely been quite the year. I was just trying to bring whatever I could to this team. With USA Basketball, there are so many other great players around you. You don’t have to do as much. You just have to do whatever it takes to win the gold.
It’s been a great year, especially right after coming off of a WNBA championship, this is the best that it can be. And anytime I have the opportunity to represent the USA, obviously, the goal is the gold medal, especially with this group, with these vets. They show us the way to do it.
On the USA’s quick start against Australia:
That was a point of emphasis, because we know Australia came out really strong in their other games. Obviously, we were trying to stop Liz (Cambage), which is something that’s really difficult, but BG (Brittney Griner) did a great job, and then we kind of went rolling from there.
On the progression of the USA team and its chemistry throughout the tournament:
Each game we got better. It was a little sloppy in the beginning. That’s expected when teams just get together, but we accomplished what we wanted. We’re going home with gold medals, and that’s what it’s about.
On qualifying for the 2020 Olympics:
To know that we have solidified a spot in the 2020 Olympics, that’s the next step. Right now, we were focusing on the World Cup. Now we’ll be shifting gears and focusing on the Olympics. I can’t wait to see what Japan, what Tokyo does to put on for the whole federation.
Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)
On the game:
Today’s game kind of symbolized what we’ve been trying to do all tournament. Defensively, we tried to do some things to minimize what they were good at, and I think we did a good job of that. A lot of that fell on BG’s (Brittney Griner’s) shoulders today, and she was just terrific.
On the tournament:
These tournaments are tough. With no preparation, to throw a bunch of players together and try to beat the best teams and the best players in the world, it’s not easy. I’m proud of this group of players and coaches. It wasn’t easy, and it feels good.
Where does this medal rank with all of your others?
It is high up there. Sue (Bird) and I were talking about it, and this is one of the hardest ones, with different factors. But in the gold medal game, we found a way to play well, to play steady, and that’s what it took.
Are you thinking ahead to the 2020 Olympics?
At this age, I’m month by month. I always say I will get with USA Basketball, and see where I’m at at that point. I’m going to try to do everything to be there and be there at a high level. If USA calls me I’m always going to play.
Will this group be there?
That would be key, obviously, to keep Stewie (Breanna Stewart) and Jewell (Loyd), BG (Brittney Griner), Tina (Charles), Elena (Delle Donne). Some of the younger kids I think had great moments – A’ja (Wilson) earlier in the tournament, and she gained great experience in these games, which are never easy.