KLAIPEDA, Lithuania – Behind a stifling defensive effort, as well as 16 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots from tournament MVP Breanna Stewart (Connecticut / North Syracuse, N.Y.), the 2013 USA U19 World Championship Team (9-0) held France (7-2) to eight points in the second half en route to a 61-28 victory and the USA’s fifth-straight FIBA U19 World Championship gold medal on Sunday night in Klaipeda, Lithuania. The U.S. has claimed six of the last seven U19 gold medals and boasts a 54-4 record over that span, while owning an all-time 66-12 record in U19 play.
Duke University sophomore Alexis Jones totaled nine points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals in 26 minutes of action on Sunday for the USA U19 squad. In the nine games, Jones averaged 10.0 points, 4.3 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals, while collecting her third career gold medal with USA Basketball. Jones started each of the nine contests and her 4.3 assists per game average ranked tied for fourth among all teams.
“It feels real good,” commented Jones on winning her third gold medal with USA Basketball. “I am excited, we worked hard for it.”
In addition to Stewart, named to the 2013 All-FIBA U19 World Championship Team were Olivia Epoupa of France, Astou Ndour of Spain, Stephanie Talbot of Australia and Oregon State University’s Jamie Weisner of Canada. Both Ndour and Stewart were part of the five-member all-tournament team at the 2011 U19s.
Stewart’s 152 points lists as the all-time USA U19 scoring record, surpassing the 147 points scored by Maya Moore in 2007. She also has the highest 3-point percentage of any USA U19 team member in history after shooting a sizzling 58.3 percent (14-24 3ptFGs), eclipsing the 57.1 percent shot beyond the arc by Cappie Pondexter in 2001.
“I was thinking, not many people get this,” said USA U19 and University of Miami head coach Katie Meier after hearing the USA’s national anthem being played as the flags were raised. “I teared up a little bit. My voice cracked. I was singing as loud as I could. I’m awfully proud. It’s so much to share it with the others and the people that were on the journey with you. That’s really the joy of it all.”
France earned its first medal in FIBA U19 World Championship history.
In coming back from a 17-point deficit in the third quarter to defeat Spain (7-2) 73-68 in the bronze medal game, Australia (7-2) earned its first medal since 1997 and upped its medal totals in U19 play to one gold (1993), one silver (1997) and two bronze medals (1989, 2013).
The USA battled France to a 66-63 victory just four nights earlier, so both squads knew a tough fight loomed from the tip.
While France got on the board first, it was a back and forth affair for the first five minutes. Working inside and trying to get a put-back, Bashaara Graves (Tennessee / Clarksville, Tenn.), who scored nine and grabbed eight caroms, was instead sent to the line. She knocked down both attempts to break the third tie early in the game and put the United States up for good, 8-6. That sparked an 11-2 spurt by the American women, who capped the first quarter up 17-8.
After Stewart got a put-back to give her squad its first double-digit lead of the night, France answered with four straight points to stay within seven, 19-12, at 7:15.
The USA countered with its own mini-spurt, receiving a bucket from Stewart and a 3-pointer from Nia Coffey (Hopkins H.S. / Minneapolis, Minn.), and doubled up on France, 24-12.
Stewart blocked a shot on the other end and France called for a time out. Shortly after returning to the court, Epoupa nailed a 3-pointer and eventually outscored the USA 7-4 in the waning minutes of the first half to keep things close, 27-19, with 46 ticks on the clock. One of two free throws from a French woman brought the halftime score to 27-20.
“Obviously we had to grind it out on the offensive end,” said Meier. “At halftime we talked about our defense. They had only scored 20 points and that was huge for us. So, we just said that when push comes to shove, you win championships with your defense, so go out there and lock down and stay together as a team. That was just an amazing performance.”
Morgan Tuck (Connecticut / Bolingbrook, Ill.), who averaged a USA second-best 13.1 points a game during the tournament, scored all of her six points in an 8-4 spurt to open the second half and with 14:45 remaining in the contest the USA led 37-24. Forty seconds later France managed to knock down a jumper to bring the score to 37-26.
From there, the USA’s trademark defense began firing on all cylinders.
France shot 0-of-6 and turned the ball over three times over the remainder of the period, while the red, white and blue scored 10 unanswered points and with 10 minutes to play the gold was virtually in hand, 47-20.
The American onslaught continued in the fourth quarter as France surrendered another 10-0 run before hitting its lone bucket of the period and the U.S. went on to win 61-28.
Moriah Jefferson (Connecticut / Glenn Heights, Texas) was credited with game-highs of five assists and four steals.
“It definitely felt amazing,” said Coffey after winning gold. “Honestly, I can’t even put to words what I felt, but it was truly a blessing to be a part of this team. To play together to win the gold is actually a dream come true.
“(The coaching staff was) absolutely amazing,” she continued. “They were so supportive. They had us prepared for every game. They did a really great job of encouraging us and helping us get to the gold. They were great.”
In all, the USA held France to an ice-cold 21.7 percent shooting from the field, including a frigid 8.3 percent (1-of-12 3pt FGs) from afar; outrebounded the French 48-37, scored 22 points off of 24 turnovers, and outcored France 18-2 on the fast break.
In the USA U19 record book, Jones dished out 29 assists and is tied with Ariel Massengale (2011) for the top spot in that category, Harper is No. 4 with 32 assists and Jefferson is No. 5 with 31. Coffey’s perfect 11-of-11 from the line takes the top spot among all-time USA U19 free throw percentage leaders, while Jones is No. 2 (.933) and Stewart is No. 5 (.897). Tuck now sits No. 9 among all-time USA U19 single-competition scoring leaders with 118 points; A’ja Wilson’s (Heathwood Hall H.S / Hopkins, S.C.) 71 rebounds lists at No. 3; while her 15 blocked shots ties with Stewart’s 15 from 2011 for the No. 3 spot.
“I think that’s news to me,” said Stewart when asked about her record-setting tournament. “Coach Meier said it after the game. But, it’s just points. You could score points and still lose the game. I’m just happy that we won the game.”
Assisting Meier and the U19 squad are collegiate head coaches Nikki Caldwell of Louisiana State University and Kelly Graves of Gonzaga University.
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 66-12 in the U19/Junior World Championships. The U.S. has claimed six of the last seven U19/Junior World Championship gold medals and boasts a 54-4 record over that span, to include the 9-0 gold medal run in Lithuania.
In today’s earlier games Canada (4-5) defeated Japan (3-6) 75-64 and finished in seventh place, while China (6-3) clipped Brazil (5-4) 68-65 to claim fifth place.