SAN JUAN (Puerto Rico) – Having not lost a game since their appearance in the 1997 FIBA Americas Championship for Women, team USA came in as heavy favorites to defend their 2019 AmeriCup gold medal and subsequent 6-0 record. The young USA squad, comprised of collegiate athletes, went 4-0 in the group phase and Quarter-Finals, but Brazil proved to be their toughest test yet.
Brazil started out the first quarter strong, shutting down USA’s fast break offense they have relied on through much of the tournament, and not letting them get their first field goal until 3 and a half minutes into the first quarter, causing turnovers and nabbing steals early on.
With USA down by as many as 12 in the first quarter, Brazil continued to defend in transition, forcing USA out of the paint and shoot from mid-range and the 3-point line, and USA shot just 20% from the field and held Aliyah Boston to just 2 points and 9% shooting from the floor.
Meanwhile, Taina Paixao had 8 points in the first quarter alone for Brazil, with Clarissa Dos Santos adding 6 of her own, as Brazil closed out the quarter with a solid 8-point lead, as they held USA to less than 18 first quarter points for the first time all tournament as they led 21-13.
Coming off their biggest first quarter deficit of the tournament, USA found their defensive flow and caused Brazil to turn the ball over, shutting down passing lanes and controlling their defensive end stronger as they tried to rally back.
Brazil’s Paixao was held scoreless through the second quarter, but the team made up for their leading scorer being shut down by still pressuring USA full court and forcing 7 steals, mostly through the air as USA attempted to play long ball and pass down to the basket, something Brazil caught onto early.
Rhyne Howard hit a buzzer-beater 3-pointer to bring her team within 8 at the half, leading USA with 9 points through two quarters, but ultimately Brazil still led 33-25 going into halftime.
Coming back into the second half, team USA found their first lead, going on 13-0 run and holding Brazil scoreless for 4 minutes of the third quarter, with Aliyah Boston finally finding the basket along with Naz Hillmon, who played bigger than her small size would suggest with a 12-point, 8 rebound performance.
Brazil was held to just 10 points in the third quarter, with Thayna Silva able to produce on offense as Dos Santos and Paixao were shut down by USA. The player who impacted the quarter most was none other than USA’s Haley Jones, who was able to get USA into a scoring rhythm, shooting over 50% and finishing the quarter with 8 points and 2 rebounds as the game flipped to 50-43 in favor of USA after three quarters.
Brazil may have been down, but certainly were not out as they entered the final 10 minutes of play. They cut USA’s lead to just 2 points in the first minute and a half of the fourth quarter, as Debora Costa played the gritty basketball that Brazil started out with to add 8 points in the game for her team.
But the depth that team USA had relied on all game came to play as both Elissa Cunane and Ashley Owusu came off the bench to impact both sides of the ball for USA. Cunane made a statement in the second half as she contributed 19 points off the bench for USA, along with 8 rebounds, while Owusu added 4 points and 6 rebounds in her 16 minutes of play.
Brazil’s dynamic duo of Dos Santos and Paixao continued to find the basket to keep Brazil in the game, each finishing with 12 points, and a bucket by Patty Teixeira cut USA’s lead to 8 points with just over a minute to play in the fourth quarter, but ultimately the young USA squad’s tenacity allowed them to perform the comeback and advance to defend their AmeriCup title with a 71-60 win.
“I really just told them we had to play with a lot more grit, I thought we were casual at times when Brazil was just really getting after it, they were taking the ball out of our hands, they were getting all of the 50/50 balls and the hustle plays, in order for us to get back into the game the way we needed to, we had to win that battle,” said USA head coach Dawn Staley.
“Then we had to just make some layups, I thought we missed a lot of layups in the first half and once we were able to figure that out, I thought we put Brazil back on their heels and put them under a little bit more pressure than we did in the first half.”