(Courtesy of USA Basketball) - Behind a strong, defensive effort that held its opponent to an icy 29.9 percent (20-67 FGs) shooting from the field, the 2017 USA Women's U19 World Cup Team (5-0) knocked off France (3-2) 78-51 in the FIBA U19 World Cup quarterfinals on Friday night in Udine, Italy. The win advances the USA to its ninth-straight U19 medal semifinal game, where it will face Japan (5-0) on July 29 (3 p.m. EDT).
Also advancing to the medal semifinals were two additional undefeated teams - Canada (5-0) and Russia (5-0), who will clash in the other semifinal contest. The gold and bronze medal games are slated for July 30.
Four U.S. athletes finished in double-digit scoring, led by 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 2-of-2 from 3-point, by Chennedy Carter (Timberview H.S./Mansfield, Texas). Joyner Holmes (Texas/Cedar Hill, Texas) scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds, Tyasha Harris (South Carolina/Noblesville, Ind.) notched 12 points and dished out a team-high six assists, and Bella Alarie (Princeton/Bethesda, Md.) chipped in 11 points to go with five boards.
The USA's defense also held France to a paltry 16.7 percent (2-12 3pt FGs) from beyond the arc, and the Americans outrebounded the Europeans 46-35.
"The struggles that we could have anticipated happened offensively tonight, because they are very physical and they disrupt what you are trying to run offensively," said USA U19 and University of Pittsburgh head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio. "So, we got off to a very slow start, but then I thought, as the game went along, we got more comfortable defending their sets and the pace of the game. Joyner (Holmes) was great energy off the bench - just her presence, she was instant offense and defensively, she looked to hedge on-ball screens. Chennedy Carter in the second half was difference maker, especially offensively. But, `Sug' (Alecia Sutton) set the tone defensively for this team, because she had the task of guarding Tima Pouye. She was chasing hard off of screens and was working so hard, and that became contagious for our team. We just needed to settle down and find ways to score throughout the course of the game."
At the end of a first quarter that featured three lead changes and two knotted scores, the USA closed the first stanza on a 5-0 run to draw even with France, 18-18.
Opening the second quarter on a 6-0 spurt, five of which came from Holmes, the U.S. moved ahead 24-18 at 5:52. France scored the next four points, but the Americans again scored six-consecutive points - a jumper from Sutton, a 3 from Alarie and a Harris free throw to end the first half with the score 30-22.
Alarie hit two quick buckets coming out of the locker room, but France outscored the USA 13-6 over the next few minutes, and with 5:31 to play in the third quarter, the USA's lead was five points, 40-35.
France would get no closer.
"Coach just told us to keep playing and keep making the extra pass," said Carter of the halftime speech. "We all, kind of, started off a bit slow in the beginning. Coach just told us to keep our heads and keep playing, and then let's build a big lead coming out of the second half and try to start off better."
Alecia Sutton (Texas/St. Louis, Mo.) hit a 3-pointer, followed by a put-back after a French turnover, to spark a 14-1 U.S. spurt that also featured seven points from Carter and two from Holmes and distanced the Americans from the Europeans 54-36 with 11:37 left in the game.
"At first, we started off slow on defense, but after the half, we picked it up a little," said Sutton, who finished with seven points. "I came out with energy, and I wanted to bring energy for the team. We had been coming out slow after halftime, so I tried to tell them we needed to bring more energy and just pick it up on defense."
Heading into the final period with a 15-point cushion, 55-40, the USA continued to pull away, and after a French 3-pointer closed the gap to 67-49, the red, white and blue capped the night with an 11-2 run to close with the 78-51 victory.
France's leading scorer heading into tonight's contest, Marie-Paule Foppossi, who averaged 12.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in her first four games, was held to seven points and two boards.
The USA finished the game shooting 48.3 percent (28-58 FGs) from the floor, including a red-hot 55.6 percent (5-9 3pt FGs) from beyond the arc.
The USA scored 25 points off of 18 French turnovers, and its substitutes outscored France's bench 37-10.
In other quarterfinal games today, Russia edged Australia (3-2) 67-65, Canada held off China (3-2) 68-65 and Japan earned a commanding 95-71 victory over Spain (3-2).
"I think they are going to pressure us a lot," said Sutton, looking ahead to the USA's semifinal contest. "We respect Japan, and we think they are going to come out and compete really hard. We just have to respect them and play hard, too."
"We are going to focus on the defensive end," added Carter. "We know this team moves a lot, both on offense and defense. We will have to come out and execute plays and just be smart on both ends of the floor, and then just stick with coach's game plan."
In classification play, Hungary (2-3) pummeled Puerto Rico (0-5) 90-46, Mexico (1-4) took a 70-66 win over Egypt (1-4), Latvia (2-3) downed Mali (0-5) 60-46 and host Italy (2-3) picked up a 78-59 victory over South Korea (0-5).
McConnell-Serio is being assisted by collegiate head coaches Kamie Ethridge from the University of Northern Colorado and Charlotte Smith from Elon University.
FIBA U19 World Cup for Women
Six-time defending FIBA U19 World Cup gold medalists, the USA is hoping to make it a lucky seven in a row at the 12th FIBA U19 World Cup in Cividale del Friuli and Udine, Italy.
Originally known as the FIBA Junior World Championship, FIBA changed the names of its age-based world championships in 2005 to reflect the age of eligibility, and recently updated the names of all of its world championships to world cups. The tournament was held every four years starting in 1985. FIBA in 2005 modified its calendar and now conducts the U19 World Cup every other year. Including its five victories in 2017, USA women's teams are 78-12 in U19/Junior World Cups, capturing a sixth-consecutive gold in 2015 with a 7-0 record.
Notable players to represent the USA at the FIBA U19 World Championship include: Alana Beard (2001), Essence Carson (2005), Tamika Catchings (1997), Bria Hartley (2011), Crystal Langhorne (2005), Jantel Lavender (2007), Lisa Leslie (1989), Rebecca Lobo (1993), Maya Moore (2007), Nnemkadi Ogwumike (2009), Vickie Orr (1985), Cappie Pondexter (2001), Katie Smith (1993), Dawn Staley (1989), Azurá Stevens (2015), Breanna Stewart (2011 and MVP of the 2013 U19 World Championship), Diana Taurasi (2001), Morgan Tuck (2011 and 2013) and A'ja Wilson (2013 and MVP of the 2015 U19 World Championship).