SAN CRISTOBAL DE LA LAGUNA, Spain – Breanna Stewart scored 19 points and the United States rallied to beat pesky Nigeria 71-40 in the quarterfinals of the Women’s Basketball World Cup on Friday.
Nigeria had been the surprise of the tournament by reaching the quarterfinals for the first time in the country’s history. The African nation had been winless in its only previous appearance in 2006. Nigeria, which features many former U.S. college players, wasn’t intimidated by the world’s No. 1 team.
The Nigerians went right at the U.S. and built a 17-9 lead after one quarter. After almost every basket, Nigeria coach Otis Hughley Jr. – who grew up in New York – was pumping his fist and cheering his team on. On the other end, the U.S. couldn’t buy a point. The Americans missed 14 of their 16 shots in the opening period and had eight turnovers while looking completely out of sync. It was the lowest scoring quarter of the tournament for the U.S.
Coach Dawn Staley tried many different combinations of players to get the offense going. The most effective group was led by Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd. The Seattle Storm trio, fresh off winning the WNBA championship, helped the U.S. close the half with a 14-3 run, including scoring the final eight points to go up 27-23 at the break. Stewart’s 3-pointer with 2:04 left in the half gave the U.S. its first lead of the game.
The Americans continued their run to start the second half and opened up a double-digit lead early in the third quarter that they wouldn’t relinquish.
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