The USA lifted their tenth FIBA Women’s World Cup with a 73-56 win over Australia in Tenerife.

The Opals were simply no match for the defending champions who lifted the title for the third consecutive time, qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in the process.

“The World Championship, now the World Cup, is always the hardest one to win,” said Diana Taurasi, who was one of two USA players named to the all-tournament team. “It’s a grind, it’s physically tough and mentally tough. When you talk about playing three games in three nights, you just don’t do that anymore as a pro. This is the only tournament that challenges you in that way.”

The USA put the pressure on Australia early by starting the game with back-to-back 3-pointers from Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm) and Taurasi to ignite a 10-0 run. The smothering defense on Australia’s 6-foot-8 center Liz Cambage of the WNBA Dallas Wings was a crucial component in the USA extending its World Cup winning streak to 22 games.

Cambage, who was leading the World Cup with 27.2 points per game, hadn’t scored fewer than 20 points in the previous five victories. The USA held her to just seven points as Cambage missed eight of her 10 shots. She was shooting 68.4 percent heading into the game.

Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury), who did a solid job battling with Cambage for much of the game, earned Player of the Game honors. Griner scored 15 points and recorded two of the team’s six blocks.

“Just make it hard,” Griner said in reference to guarding Cambage. “Everything that they do to me we tried to do her, and it was really a group effort tonight.”

The USA also held Australia 27 points fewer than its 83.0 ppg. tournament average. Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm), who became the first USA player to win both a five-on-five World Cup and a 3×3 World Cup (2014) gold medal, forced three of the team’s seven steals.

USA head coach Dawn Staley had said the defense had an under construction sign for almost the entire World Cup. The defence came together when it mattered most.

“This particular game I thought we gave our best defensive effort,” said Staley, who became the first American to win World Cup gold medals as a player, assistant coach and head coach. “We also have to credit Spain last night for tiring them out. But what makes us good is the ability to have layers and layers of players that give (Cambage) different looks. Brittney Griner did a great job starting the game to where we didn’t have to go to our game plan B.”

Stewart, who won the WNBA league and Finals MVP honours, was named the 2018 FIBA World Cup MVP. She finished the game with 10 points and five rebounds, averaging 16.3 points and 6.3 rebounds for the tournament.

Stewart said she barely had time to process her WNBA success, because she hopped on a plane almost immediately after the celebration parade.

“It’s been an incredible few months, that’s for sure,” Stewart said. “I think the biggest thing about it all is it’s all focused on team, having the team win. Winning the championship in Seattle and then coming here and knowing that I’m playing with 11 of the other best players in the world, and not needing to play outside of my game and just do what I do best to help us win gold. And anything else that comes with that, obviously is great.”

Bird became the only player in history, male or female, to win four World Cup gold medals. She has five World Cup medals overall. She also broke Staley’s all-time career World Cup assists record in the process. She entered the game one assist shy of Staley’s 103 assists and broke it on the first two USA baskets. An assist on Stewart’s 3-point shot tied the record 24 seconds into the game. Taurasi, a longtime University of Connecticut, EuroLeague and USA teammate who has teamed with Bird to win seven Olympic and World Cup gold medals, knocked down the 3-point shot that broke the record 20 seconds later. Bird finished the game with five assists to bring her career total to 107.

“I didn’t even know,” Bird said of Taurasi’s shot breaking the record. “Of course it’s fitting. How do I talk about five World Cups, four gold medals in those five opportunities and not talk about Diana?”

Earlier, tournament hosts Spain sealed third place and the last podium step with a 67-60 against Belgium. The game was finely balanced throughout with just two points separating the teams with two minutes to play when Spanish forward Laura Nicholls hit two baskets in quick succession. It gave the hosts the daylight needed to sneak the victory and Marta Xargay delivered a dagger with 38 seconds left to make sure. With the win they sealed their second Women’s World Cup podium in a row, having finished second in Istanbul in 2014.

Stewart was rewarded for her exceptional play in the tournament by being named MVP and headlining the All-Star Five, where she was joined by USA teammate Diana Taurasi, Emma Meesseman of Belgium, Cambage of Australia and Spain’s Astou Ndour.


Final standings of the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2018

1. USA
2. Australia
3. Spain
4. Belgium
5. France
6. China
7. Canada
8. Nigeria
9. Greece
10. Japan
11. Senegal
12. Turkey
13. Latvia
14. Korea
15. Argentina
16. Puerto Rico

pix: Fiba

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