Gonzaga freshman Chet Holmgren and the U.S. were at their best when it mattered the most.
France made the Americans earn a gold medal, and that’s exactly what Holmgren and his teammates did with a thrilling 83-81 victory Sunday at the FIBA U19 World Cup in Riga, Latvia.
The U.S. trailed 64-59 after three quarters, but Holmgren scored five quick points in the fourth quarter, and his reverse layup gave the Americans a 69-68 lead with 6 minutes, 50 seconds remaining.
Holmgren finished with 10 points – his seventh straight tournament game in double figures – and added five assists and two rebounds in 23-plus minutes.
“It feels great,” Holmgren said in a FIBA website article. “I don’t think I can say I have felt anything as big as this. I’m really happy for our whole team, the coaching staff and everybody that went through all the things we went through in the last couple of weeks.”
The 7-foot-1 Holmgren was named tournament MVP. He was joined on the All-Tournament team by USA’s Jaden Ivey, Canada’s Zach Edey, Serbia’s Nikola Jovic and France’s Victor Wembanyama. Ivey and Edey are teammates at Purdue.
One of the title game’s turning points occurred when Holmgren made a spin move in the lane and drew the fourth foul on the 7-2 Wembanyama with 7:23 left. Wembanyama, who dominated the first half with 14 points, went to the bench and Holmgren made a pair of free throws.
France trailed 77-71 by the time Wembanyama returned. The 17-year-old Wembanyama quickly fouled out as the USA went on top 79-71.
France, No. 4 in the FIBA world rankings rallied within 83-81, but top-ranked U.S. ran out the clock with a pair of offensive rebounds in the closing seconds.
Holmgren, projected in some mock drafts as the top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, had a fast start with five points and two assists as USA bolted in front 12-4. France responded with Wembanyama leading the way and took a 42-37 advantage at halftime.
Holmgren, the No. 1 recruit in the 2021 class, was 3 of 8 from the field, including 1 of 2 from distance, and 3 of 4 at the free-throw line.
Wembanyama, projected by many as the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and eight blocks in 27-plus minutes.
”I don’t really give too many people credit, but I give credit to this guy right here,” Holmgren said of Wembanyama. “I thought I was tall, I thought I had long arms, but he takes it to a whole other level. He moves great. He’s got a shot. He’s got skills, too. He’s gonna be a rich man one day. I know he’s gonna keep working. Hopefully I’ll be able to see him in the NBA and continue to play against him for a long time.”
Ivey and Kenny Lofton each scored 16 points for the U.S. Mike Miles had 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Holmgren’s tournament averages: 21.3 minutes, 62% from the field, 53.8 from deep, 66.7% at the foul line, 11.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.7 blocks.
“His leadership was huge all the way through,” USA coach Jamie Dixon said. “He was a great teammate, has good understanding of the game. He is really a special kid. He’s unselfish. He loves passing and he plays defense. And he plays hard all the time. He practices hard and he plays hard. He’s good for a lot of reasons.”
The U.S. went 7-0 in the tournament, including a 92-86 win over second-ranked Canada in Saturday’s semifinals.
Holmgren joins his former Minnehaha Academy (Minneapolis) and AAU teammate Jalen Suggs with a gold medal from the U19 World Cup. Suggs, a standout point guard at Gonzaga last season and projected top-five pick in the draft, helped the U.S. win the 2019 World Cup.