KAZAN, Russia – Despite leading by as many as 17 points during the fourth quarter, the 2013 USA Basketball Women's World University Games Team (5-0) found themselves trailing Australia (4-1) by one point in the final seconds before Crystal Bradford (Central Michigan University/Detroit, Mich.) scored what would be the game-winning basket on a put-back with 14 seconds left to give the USA a 79-78 victory in the semifinal round on Saturday night at Basket Hall in Kazan, Russia.
The USA advances to the gold-medal match on Monday, July 15, at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) where they will face host Russia (5-0), who reached the final by defeating Taiwan (4-1) by a score of 69-51 earlier today. The game will air live on ESPNU (1:30 p.m. EDT).
Duke senior Tricia Liston was held scoreless as she saw action in only eight minutes on Saturday. Liston, who is from River Forest, Ill., totaled one rebound and one assist.
After letting a 71-54 lead with under seven minutes left in the game slip away, the USA trailed 78-77 when they forced a 24-second violation to regain possession with 29 seconds remaining. After a U.S. timeout, Bradford drove the lane and sidestepped a defender to free herself for a lay-up attempt. The first try rimmed out, but Bradford collected her own miss and finished the put-back to put the USA ahead 79-78 with 14 seconds left.
"We had an offense that we had already set up (with) a play, but we didn't execute it, so at this point we started cutting," said Bradford on what led to her go-ahead score. "I saw that if I cut I would be open. When I got the ball, it was time to go. I sidestepped and saw that I was open. I thought the first one was going to go in, so I didn't expect to get the rebound, but it came off, and I grabbed the rebound. I knew I had to go up strong; I didn't even want to shoot free throws. And I went up, and I made it, and I was excited."
Now, the USA needed one last stop to hold on for the victory-or as it turned out, two last stops. Australia's Marianna Tolo attempted an eight-foot jump shot contested by Cassie Harberts (University of Southern California/San Clemente, Calif.) with :08 on the clock. The shot missed, and Odyssey Sims (Baylor University/Irving, Texas) initially grabbed the rebound, however, Tolo tied her up to force a jump ball with seven seconds left and the possession arrow in Australia's favor.
Given another chance, Australia called Tolo's number once more. Again, Tolo's jump shot missed, and, again, Sims secured the board, though this time she was uncontested as she dribbled out the clock to finish the heart-pounding victory for the USA.
"I tell you what, that 14 seconds felt like forever," said USA head coach Sherri Coale (University of Oklahoma). "And then we did everything right, and I thought came up with the rebound, and they called a jump ball and we had to defend them for seven more. We had not been really good in defending their inbound plays. For a split second there, I thought about changing the way we were guarding on the inbound, but I felt like the most important thing for our kids at that point was to be sure, and so we stuck with what we had been doing and got them to take a tough shot and came up with the rebound somehow. We've been given a gift."
The USA found itself in that position following a furious comeback by Australia. After Australia had already chipped in to what was a 17-point lead, Sims made a lay-up with 3:51 to play to put the USA ahead 76-66. Australia then scored seven unanswered points before Alice Kunek hit a 3-pointer with 1:57 to play to tie the game. The streak would continue to a 12-0 run for Australia as they took a 78-76 lead on two free throws by Tolo with 1:08 to play.
Bradford drew a foul with 54 seconds left and made one-of-two free throws to bring the U.S. deficit to 78-77. On Australia's ensuing possession, the USA forced a shot clock violation to set the stage for Bradford's heroics.
The USA built its cushion with an outstanding third quarter led by the play of Sims, who celebrated her 21st birthday by leading the USA in scoring with 20 points, including 12 in the third period. Trailing 33-32 coming out of halftime, the USA netted 12 fast-break points in the third quarter and outscored Australia 30-16 overall for the period to take a 62-49 lead into the final frame.
"Definitely after the first half, we thought we had to come together, everyone had to get a pace, and I think we did a better job of boxing out in that third quarter," said Bria Hartley (University of Connecticut/ North Babylon, N.Y.) on how the USA built its lead. "We got rebounds and we were able to push in transition. I thought Odyssey did a great job of getting to the basket. That was part of our game plan. We knew they really couldn't keep us in front because we are more athletic than them, so Odyssey did a great job of breaking her man down off the dribble and finishing."
The USA continued to stretch its advantage at the start of the fourth quarter, taking the largest lead of the game at 71-54 on a lay-up by Sims with 7:07 to play.
In addition to scoring a team-high 20 points, Sims also recorded six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Hartley added 14 points and five assists, while Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (University of Connecticut/Anaheim Hills, Calif.) posted a double-double with 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Theresa Plaisance (Louisiana State University/New Orleans, La.) contributed 10 points, and Bradford finished with nine points. Kunek led Australia with both 20 points and nine rebounds.
The USA shot 38.9 percent from the field (28-72 FGs) and 79.2 percent from the line (19-24 FTs), while Australia posted a field goal percentage of 35.8 (24-67 FGs) and shot 87.1 from the line (27-31 FTs).
Australia started fast out of the gates, taking an early lead of 17-6 before heading in to the first quarter break with a 20-13 advantage. Australia would lead for all but 19 seconds of the first half, and Mosqueda-Lewis finally gave the USA its first lead at 32-31 with 54 seconds to play in the second quarter. Australia scored with 35 seconds remaining, however, to take a lead of 33-32 into halftime.
In addition to the finals on Monday, July 15, classification matchups for all 16 places will be contested, including the bronze-medal match between Australia and Taiwan.
Assisting Coale on the USA sideline are Brian Giorgis of Marist College and Coquese Washington of Penn State University.
The USA is looking for its third-straight gold medal at the World University Games women's basketball competition, and ninth overall.