USA women make noise in gold medal hoops 90-71 victory against Russia
KAZAN, Russia -- They poured into Basket Hall Monday night, armed with thunder sticks and expecting to celebrate another Russian gold medal.
And why not? Russia has made these World University Games its private bling celebration. More Russians are wearing more gold in this city than you’d see on stage at a 50 Cent concert.
So they crowded into this basketball theater ready to erupt, waiting for that one early Russian run they were sure was coming, that would put their team ahead and get their party started.
Problem is, the run never came. The party never began. Every time Russia strung together even a couple of field goals, the gold medal-winning United States women, answered.
Every time the crowd tried to get a wave of noise started, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis hit a 3-pointer.
Or Theresa Plaisance spun in the low post and scored. Or Odyssey Sims forced a turnover and dropped a pass to Bria Hartley for an easy bucket.
The Americans didn’t just silence the Russian crowd in their 90-71 gold medal performance. They made sure the crowd never got the chance to get loud. They made it obvious from the get-go, this night, this game, this gold belonged to them.
“It’s a great feeling to silence the crowd like that,” Plaisance said. “We had the mindset coming into this game that if we were up by 20, we weren’t up by enough.”
This is what a championship team looks like.
This was a team playing its best against the best. A team equal to the moment. A team unafraid of the setting. A team saving its most complete game for this championship night.
The Americans locked up the Russian offense. They forced 20 turnovers and scored 27 points off those turnovers. They shared the ball as if they’d been playing together for years.
“It’s incredible how tight knit we are,” Plaisance said, who frustrated Russia’s dangerous post player Natalia Vieru, scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds. “We only had about a month to get ready for these Games and I just know I’ve never been closer to a group of girls in my life.
“We didn’t have any superstars. We just had great balance all around. These girls are great. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. This is just a great moment I get to share with such great ladies.”
Of course players on every championship team have huge egos. That’s part of what makes a champion. But this is a team that was able to meld the individual egos into one huge collective ego.
It’s not always that easy to do, no matter how much talent is on the team. But from the first day of camp, these Americans understood the stakes.
“I think when you get here, you kind of just realize that this is something that is bigger than all of us,” Hartley said. “Coming out here and winning the gold medal and playing for your country is bigger than any one individual that we have on our team.
“We realize that we all have to come together and be one. And even though we’ve only been together for a short time we were able to buy into that and play really well. I think the big fact was that everyone shared the ball.
“There are so many threats on our team and if they’re able to share the ball and get some movement, it’s going to be hard for teams to defend that. I think that’s what we did today.”
And the fact is, the U.S. players were faster, stronger and much better than the Russians.
“Winning a championship has a lot to do with talent and depth,” said Sims, who was voted the most outstanding player on the U.S. team. “We had a lot of talent on this team.”
Coach Sherri Coale said she relied on her veterans to provide the leadership a championship team needs.
Been-there-done-that players like UConn’s NCAA champions Mosqueda-Lewis and Hartley and Baylor’s Sims, who won a national championship and on Monday night became the first woman to win two World University Games gold medals in basketball acted as her messengers.
“I definitely took a lot of pride in that leadership role,” Hartley said, who finished with 17 points and two steals. “Coach kind of talked to me and asked me to get everyone on the same page and wanted me to tell the players who haven’t been through this before, what kind of mindset they needed and the kind of work ethic we need to have in practice. Me, Kaleena and Odyssey we all just combined to get everybody excited for these games.”
Coale did a masterful job of making these all-stars believe they were a team. She got them to accept her fastbreaking style of offense. She found a better way to defend the Russian’s ball screens that gave the Americans fits in their loss in a pre-tournament scrimmage.
“Russia is a hard team to guard and we made them look not very good,” Coale said.
Coale X’d and O’d, motivated and cajoled her team to a title. She made the decision before this game to take the ball inside and challenge the tall, but slender Russian front line. Penetration and postups, got the U.S. a 13-3 lead after six minutes.
“Coaching them was fun, really fun,” Coale said. “I think it’s a lot harder than people realize sometimes, for kids and coaches alike because you have to find a way to become a team so fast and in a pressurized environment.
“Kids have to swallow their egos and play roles. They have to listen to a different kind of instruction than what they’re accustomed to.
“But these guys just bought in. They were respectful. They tried to do exactly what we asked them to do. They handled themselves with class the entire time. We had not one problem with anyone on this entire trip. It really was just an honor to be associated with them.”
Every championship run has its scary moment. For this team, it came in the semifinal win over Australia. The U.S. built a 17-point fourth-quarter lead and lost all of it underneath a blizzard of turnovers, forced jump shot and silly fouls.
But in the last seconds, Crystal Bradford scored on an offensive rebound and Sims rebounded the final Aussie miss and the U.S. escaped with a one-point win.
“After the Australia game, we talked about fundamental defense. We talked about not making silly fouls,” Coale said. “We talked about shot selection. Execution down the stretch. And we talked about blocking out. And they listened.”
Moments after the win, the U.S. players ran through the hallway, under the stands toward their locker room, singing their recently adopted theme song, “Gold all in my chain.” Their voices echoed off the walls.
On this night, they made all the noise. And they took all the gold.