PANEVEZYS, Lithuania -- Breanna Stewart (Connecticut / North Syracuse, N.Y.), who was a perfect 6-of-6 and scored 19 of her game-high 26 points in the first quarter, led the 2013 USA U19 Women’s U19 World Championship Team (1-0) to a 113-47 victory in its FIBA U19 World Championship opener over host Lithuania (0-1) on Thursday night in Panevezys, Lithuania.
Duke sophomore Alexis Jones started at guard and totaled six points, a game-high five steals, four rebounds and three assists in 21 minutes. Jones, who is out of Midland, Texas, hit 3-of-6 field goals during her time.
In other Group D action, China (1-0) downed Mali (0-1) 97-44. The U.S. continues preliminary round play with a July 19 contest (1:15 p.m. EDT) against China and closes out against Mali on July 20 (1:15 p.m. EDT).
In a game that saw all 12 players score, the USA had four players finish with double digits, including Morgan Tuck (Connecticut / Bolingbrook, Ill.), who scored 18 points, added five boards and dished out a game-high six assists. Bashaara Graves (Tennessee / Clarksville, Tenn.) scored 13 points and hauled in a team-high (tie) seven rebounds, while USA Basketball rookie Nia Coffey (Hopkins H.S. / Minneapolis, Minn.) scored 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting from the floor and 4-of-4 from the line.
“Our starting lineup, our veterans showed their experience to start that game,” said USA U19 and University of Miami head coach Katie Meier. “It was an awesome display. They really were sharp, shared the ball, talked through defensive assignments and schemes. So, I was very pleased.
“The bright lights, she knows when it’s time to shine and she was just …,” added Meier, who trailed off when talking about Stewart’s performance. “Her efficiency, too. She only missed two shots in the first half. She missed one three and one jumper. Her stroke was perfect and what I love about this team is that they were saying, ‘we’ll get it to Stewie. We have to feed Stewie.’ When she’s hitting her jumper, she’s very hard to guard. She was stroking it tonight.”
Moriah Jefferson (Connecticut / Glenn Heights, Texas), who finished with eight points and three assists, put the U.S. on the board 29 seconds into the contest and the Americans never trailed. Stewart followed with a pair of buckets as the USA went up 6-0 to start in its 14-2 opening run.
By the time Lithuania scored again – getting three in a single trip to the line – the Americans had five steals and the tempo of the game was being fully dictated by the red, white and blue. By the 6:55 mark, all five starters had scored and when the second wave came in at 5:37, the game was well in hand, 22-7.
“Our group that started, we were really clicking on all cylinders,” said Tuck on the USA’s opening run. “Our defense was good. Our press was really aggressive and we were getting our hands on the ball. We were really just running the floor. When Moriah (Jefferson) or Lex (Jones) would get a steal, then me, Bre (Stewart) and Bashaara (Graves) were just running the floor and getting layups.”
At the end of the period the USA was up 38-15, already had six of its 21 steals, and scored 17 points off of eight Lithuanian turnovers.
“I think it was a mixture of both (being open and being hot). They weren’t playing that great of a defense. It seemed that after a cut, you’d be open. But at the same time, there were some of my shots that just went in,” said Stewart, who was three points shy of tying the USA’s U19 single-game record (29, Alana Beard in 2001).
“Oh, she was amazing,” said Bashaara Graves on Stewart’s performance. “She was hitting everything. We definitely wanted to get it to her, because she was hot. She stayed hot and they couldn’t guard her. She had an amazing first quarter, first half really.”
Never letting up, by halftime the USA’s lead was up to 67-31. The American women outscored Lithuania 31-9 in the third quarter and 15-7 in the fourth, going up by as many as 68 (110-42), to close the night with the lopsided victory.
In addition to the double-digit scorers, A’ja Wilson (Heathwood Hall H.S / Hopkins, S.C.) scored nine points, had seven boards and four blocked shots; while Linnae Harper (Whitney Young H.S. / Chicago, Ill.) and Kelsey Plum (La Jolla Country Day / Poway, Calif.) chipped in seven points apiece.
Stewart finished the night making 8-of-11 from the field and a perfect 8-of-8 from the line, while grabbing five boards, dishing out two assists and nabbing three steals in 20 minutes of play. Her shooting from the line ranks second (tie) among all-time USA leaders for perfect percentage from the charity stripe. Melissa Lechlitner in 2007 hit 10-of-10 and Skylar Diggins in 2009 went 8-of-8 from the line in a single game.
Dominating in every category, the USA outrebounded the Europeans 60-23, scored 39 points off of 28 turnovers, had a 68-24 advantage in the paint, 28-2 on second chances and 42-24 off the bench. Further, Lithuania managed just eight points off the USA’s 16 turnovers, while the USA had 28 steals and the hosts managed just one. Shooting a sizzling 55.0 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from 3-point, the Americans held Lithuania to 29.5 percent from the floor and 22.0 percent beyond the arc.
“We had 16 turnovers and they only had one steal, so we weren’t getting live ball turnovers,” stated Meier. “That’s the big difference. It wasn’t like we were throwing it to the other team. We were traveling or moving our pivot foot or getting an offensive foul. But, we’re okay. It’s expected. This is a big stage for some of these kids. This is the first time playing in something like this. I thought the second half was really good. I think when I look at the second half (again), I’ll be really pleased.”
Ieva Kazlauskaite was her team’s leading scorer with 14 points.
In other games, Brazil (1-0) nipped Russia (0-1) 66-63, Serbia (1-0) defeated South Korea (0-1) 88-79, Australia (1-0) picked off Argentina (0-1) 69-48, Spain (1-0) earned an 80-74 victory over Mali (0-1), and France (1-0) dispatched Netherlands (0-1) 81-58. Senegal (1-0) had travel difficulties and forfeited its first game, giving Canada the victory.
Assisting Meier and the U19 squad are collegiate head coaches Nikki Caldwell of Louisiana State University and Kelly Graves of Gonzaga University.
The 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship, which features 16 teams with athletes 19-years-old or younger, is being hosted by Lithuania from July 18-28 in Klaipeda and Panevėžys.
The top three finishing teams from each first-round group will advance to the second round, held July 22-24. The 12 nations qualifying for the second round will be divided into Groups E and F. Each team will play the three new teams in its new group, with all results of games played in the preliminary round carrying over to determine the second-round standings.
Teams finishing in first through fourth places in the second round will qualify for the quarterfinals, with the opportunity to advance to the semifinals and finals. The medal round will be played in Klaipeda, with the quarterfinals held on July 26, semifinals slated for July 27 and the gold medal game on July 28.
Originally known as the FIBA Junior World Championship, the tournament was held every four years starting in 1985. FIBA changed its calendar in 2006 and now conducts the U19 World Championship every other year. USA women’s teams are now 58-12 in the U19/Junior World Championships, capturing a fourth-consecutive gold medal with an 8-1 record most recently in 2011.