MOSCOW REGION (2007 FIBA U21 World Championship) - With one game remaining in preliminary play at the 2007 FIBA U21 World Championship for Women, the USA Basketball U21 World Championship Team (4-0) clinched the top spot in Group B after dropping Spain (1-3) 81-62 on Tuesday afternoon in Moscow. Another overall team effort saw every member of the team score, including Laura Harper's 13 points, Jolene Anderson added 11 and Essence Carson finished with 10.
"Coming into the game, we knew it was going to be a challenging game," said Harper.
"They have a lot of guard play and they were going to stretch out our defense. That's been our focal point up to now. I think we played well, we had two lapses in the second half and that's something that we want to fix. We need to play a more complete game. But overall it was good."
The USA will conclude preliminary round play on July 4 tip against Japan. Today's win assured the U.S. the top spot in Group B for quarterfinals action, where on July 6 the red, white and blue will go up against the fourth placed finisher from Group A. The semifinals will be held on July 7 and the finals are scheduled for July 8.
"Defensively we did some very good things as a team, especially in the first half," said USA U21 National Team head coach Joanne P. McCallie.
"I really felt that holding them to 24 points in the first half was good, solid defense. But also we got some great work against a zone. Our zone offense was moving the ball, creating more assists, creating more opportunities. I really thought we had a lot of good free throw opportunities, as well as getting the ball inside. We didn't capitalize on all of them, but that's a good sign and prepares us well for future zones."
After a sluggish start from both sides, Carson made the second of two free throws at 7:57 for the game's first point. The young Americans, putting pressure on their opponents, held Spain scoreless for the first 4:36 of the contest and allowed the Spaniards their fourth and final field goal of the quarter at 1:27. The USA was ahead 15-9 at that point and the squad strung together a 9-0 run to close the quarter with a 24-9 lead.
Spain was able to chip away at the USA's lead and with 4:42 left in the half the USA's hold on Spain was 33-22. With its defense forcing Spain into turnovers and bad shots, the Americans once again closed out the quarter on a charge, receiving points from four different players in an 11-2 run and at halftime it was a 20-point, 44-24, ball game.
In what was an all-around first half effort, eight of the USA's players scored, including six with no less than five points apiece. The U.S. also already held a commanding lead on the glass, 28-11 and forced Spain into nine turnovers.
"I don't think you can scout our team with just a few players like you do other (teams)," said Marscilla Packer, who scored eight points in the contest. "Everyone can come in and effect you in different ways."
Spain started the second half by forcing the Americans into six turnovers in the third quarter and cut the USA's advantage down to 59-44.
However, Anderson hit a three with 9:05 to play against Spain's zone to jump-start the fourth quarter. Following a Spanish basket Candice Wiggins skipped a pass across the court to Anderson as she rendered Spain's zone ineffective by nailing her second consecutive three and with 8:18 to play as the U.S. went ahead 65-46. Continuing to keep Spain at bay, the young Americans closed out their fourth game in five days with another win.
Courtney Paris' 10 rebounds led another dominating USA performance on the glass. DeWanna Bonner grabbed seven boards and Harper and Kia Vaughn each hauled in six boards as the U.S. outrebounded Spain 46-26, including grabbing 23 on the offensive end.
Maria Royo scored 15 points and Blanca Marcos had 10 to lead their side.
The USA had its best 3-point shooting night of the tournament, making 7-of-18 from beyond the arc for 38.9 percent. The squad, which had six turnovers in the third quarter after giving up the ball a total of five times in the first half, finished with 12 and forced Spain into 20.
"They run the floor pretty quickly, they don't dribble a lot, they like to pass up the floor and get some quick looks in," commented Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton when asked for a scouting report on Japan . "They aren't the biggest team out here, but I think they're very quick, fast and mobile and we're going to have to stop their penetration so they won't hurt us on the inside."
In other Group B action, Hungary (2-2) downed Brazil (1-3) 75-64, while Australia (3-1) trumped Japan (1-3) 91-72. In Group A, Belgium (2-2) defeated China (0-4) 76-70 in the morning, while Russia (3-0) faces Mali (0-3) at 6:00 p.m. (10:00 a.m. EDT), while Canada (2-1) and France (3-0) meet in the final game of the night.
McCallie is being assisted by collegiate head coaches Sam Dixon of Furman University (S.C.), an assistant to McCallie last summer with the 2006 USA U20 National Team, and Arizona State University's Charli Turner Thorne.
Prior to arriving in Russia, the USA spent a week training in France and completed a three-game sweep against the French U21 World Championship Team. On June 18 the USA won in Monte Carlo, Monaco, to a tune of 82-59, on June 19 in Antibes the score was 81-68 and on June 21 the series concluded in La Garde with the USA on top 71-57.
The USA is hoping to defend its world title in this age group, open to athletes 21-years-old or younger (born on or after Jan. 1, 1986), at the 2007 FIBA U21 World Championship, which runs through July 8.
photo Getty Images
photo Getty Images