BRNO, Czech Republic (July 22, 2001) -- The 2001 USA Basketball Women's Junior World Championship Team (6-1) rebounded from its semifinal loss to claim the bronze medal with a 77-72 victory over Australia (5-2) tonight in Brno, Czech Republic. The bronze marks the USA's second medal in five competitions as the U.S. earned the gold in 1997 and finished no better than fifth in the initial three FIBA Junior World Championships. Diana Taurasi (Connecticut / Chino, Calif.) led the U.S. with 23 points, but it was a third quarter show by Rutgers University (N.J.) freshman-to-be Cappie Pondexter (John Marshall H.S./ Chicago, Ill.), who notched nine points and three steals in the third to propel the United States onto the medal stand.
Host Czech Republic (6-1) hit a layup with less than 10 seconds on the clock to win the gold medal with an 82-80 victory over Russia (5-2). Taurasi and Alana Beard (Duke / Shreveport, La.) were named to the All-Junior World Championship Team, along with Russia's Olga Artechina and the Czech Republic's Jana Vesela and Eva Viteckova.
"The big thing was that we were able to play a little bit better on the defensive end in the second half," said USA and University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma. "Australia is a very difficult team to defend because they shoot the threes, they spread the floor very well. On the offensive end, Cappie Pondexter coming off the bench was the big difference. She was the big difference in the game. The shots that she made were the reason that we won in the second half."
"We struggled with our defense yesterday and we did the same thing today in the first half," added Auriemma. "Today we were fortunate that we made some shots on offense and we won the bronze medal. I'm very happy for our team. It's always a disappointment when you're the USA and you don't win the gold medal. But we're happy we didn't come in fourth. We had the chance to play for the gold medal last night and we didn't do it. Today we had the chance to win the bronze medal and we did it so I'm happy with that."
At the opening of the final quarter the United States held a 12-point, 67-55, advantage. After Pondexter scored a jumper and grabbed her third steal of the game and turned it into a 3-pointer, the USA seemed to have the game safely in hand 72-55 with 8:58 remaining in the medal contest. Following an Aussie 2-pointer the USA notched eight turnovers on as many possessions, including two 24-second violations, and with 4:27 to play the Americans' lead had eroded to 72-65. With the score standing at 75-67, Australia's Laura Summerton, who scored a game high 25 points, hit a 3-pointer with 1:07 remaining and her squad was within striking distance 75-70. The U.S. missed a 3-pointer on the opposite end, Australia grabbed the rebound, sprinted the length of the court but missed three straight. Alana Beard (Duke / Shreveport, La.) blocked the third, a 3-point attempt, and Taurasi came up with the rebound. Australia stole a U.S. pass and with 10.5 seconds to go made a layup to pull within three points, 75-72. Beard was fouled after catching the subsequent inbounds pass and nailed both of her free throws to ice the bronze medal victory for the United States.
"Australia came out ready to win the ball game," said Taurasi. "In the first half we didn't come out with the kind of intensity we wanted to and that was a let down. But in the second half we stepped up our game and took over the game defensively. As much as we wanted the gold medal, at least we got one and I'm happy about that. We put in a lot of hard work so we got a little something out of it."
Taurasi hit one of her eventual three 3-pointers 15 seconds into the contest, but the USA's lead was short lived. Australia benefitted from three U.S. turnovers over the ensuing 4:06 and held onto a 17-8 upper hand at 5:40. Taurasi was fouled and made good on a 3-point play to begin an 11-0 United States counterattack to take a slim 19-17 lead with 1:18 to go in the quarter and by the first buzzer held a 27-20 advantage.
After trading baskets to start the second quarter, the U.S. was up by eight, 30-22, at 9:28. However, Australia sprinted back into the contest with a 10-0 run and held a 32-30 edge at 7:25. A U.S. 13-3 run, aided by five different scorers, put the Americans back on top 43-35 at 2:43. Australia was sent to the line for eight attempts (4-8 FTs), while also scoring two field goals, and by halftime, the score was tied at 43-43.
With the score standing 47-47 at 6:49 the United States used a 13-2 scoring run to open up the contest 60-49 with 3:38 to play in the third. During that run, which saw Taurasi score five points and Ann Strother (Highlands Ranch H.S. / Castle Rock, Colo.) an additional four, Pondexter stripped Australia of the ball twice and her tight defensive play forced Australia into another turnover on a bad pass. The Aussies converted on 2-of-4 attempts from the line to close the gap to 61-51, but the United States extended its lead to 12 points, 67-55, by the end of the third quarter.
"That was my plan in the beginning of the game, to come in a give the team a spark," said Pondexter. "But things got off to a bad start. Coach was upset with us at halftime and I just wanted to come out and help Diana (Taurasi) and Alana (Beard) and to win the game. I guess they weren't worried about me after my first half play so at first they were leaving me open."
The U.S. finished with three players in double digits for scoring. In addition to Taurasi's 23 and Pondexter's 12 points, Beard closed with 13 points and four steals. Stacy Stephens (Texas / Winnsboro, Texas), who took two charges during the contest, came up with a game high 10 rebounds and added four points.
"It was exciting to be able to finally play," said Duke University (N.C.) freshman-to-be Monique Currie (The Bullis School / Washington, D.C.), who finished with four points and five rebounds in 14 minutes. "I know that I've learned a lot during the past three weeks. I've tried to work hard from the beginning. Being out there was great and I felt that I helped our team with the win. Just to be able to play in this tournament has been great for us and to get a medal is even better, even though it's not the one we wanted. But we wanted to come out here tonight and end it on a win and do our best."
Assisting Auriemma on the sidelines are collegiate head coaches Sherri Coale, from the University of Oklahoma, and Willette White, from Northeastern University (Mass.).
Defending FIBA Junior World Champions, the United States earned the gold with an exciting 78-74 overtime victory over then-defending Junior World Champions Australia in the 1997 competition. Held every four years since 1985, the U.S. finished no better than fifth in the first three competitions. The USA's victory today upped the Americans' overall record at the Junior Worlds to 24-10 (70.6 winning percentage).