SIBENIK, Croatia Junior Kendra Wecker grabbed a team-best four steals in 10 minutes of action, as she helped the U.S. defeat France by a score of 58-47 in the semifinals of the FIBA World Championship for Young Women on Saturday evening.
The U.S. (6-1) will now meet up with Brazil (6-1) in the gold medal game on Sunday night. The Brazilians gave the Americans their only loss of the tournament.
Arizonas Shawntinice Polk led the U.S. attack with team-highs in both points (15) and rebounds (seven), while Rutgers Cappie Pondexter and LSUs Seimone Augustus added 14 and 10 points, respectively. Wecker scored just two points on 1-of-3 shooting, but did manage to a team-best four steals and five rebounds. Wildcat teammate Nicole Ohlde connected on just 2-of-10 shots from the field for four points, but did grab four rebounds and three steals in 25 minutes of action.
It feels great to be playing for the gold medal, said Wecker. Weve only been playing together for a month and to come out and accomplish this, to get into the gold medal game, is awesome. Weve been taking it game by game and this is what we came her for to play in the championship game.
The U.S. connected on just 35.4 percent of its shots in the contest, including just 16.7 percent from three-point range. However, the Americans played solid on defense, holding the French to just 28.6 percent shooting and forcing 15 turnovers. The U.S. also connected on 8-of-12 free throws (73.3 percent), while France managed to shoot just 45.5 percent from the charity stripe (5-of-11).
We knew from the outset that it was going to be a physical game, said USA head coach Jim Foster. It was sort of a test of will and we had a lot of people do some good things for us. And the end result is that we had enough good things done to win it. I thought Kendra Wecker came in and really gave us a boost. She got a lot of loose balls and played with a lot of energy.
The first half was all about spurts. The U.S. used a 12-0 run, including six points from Dukes Alana Beard, to take a commanding lead in the first quarter before the French closed the gap to two points with an 8-0 run to end the quarter.
Ahead just 14-12 to start the second quarter, Polk accounted for all of the U.S.s points in an 11-2 run, as the Americans held a 25-14 advantage at the mark. However, the French took off on a 15-0 tear that ended with 35 seconds remaining. Minnesotas Lindsay Whalen scored a driving lay-up with four seconds to go and the U.S. found itself trailing 29-27 at halftime.
In the second half, the U.S. used stellar defensive play to take control of the third quarter. The Americans allowed just two French field goals in the decisive quarter, while they scored 18 points, including 14 from Augustus and Pondexter.
With just remaining in the game, France cut the lead to six, 47-41. However, the U.S. responded with a pair of free throws from Pondexter and a field goal by Augustus to push the lead back to 10 points at 51-41. The French closed to within 51-44 after a three-pointer, but the U.S. defense tightened en route to the 11-point victory.
The U.S. reached the medal semifinals with an 80-56 victory over Australia on Friday. Georgias Christi Thomas led a balanced American attack with 13 points and seven rebounds, while Seimone Augustus scored 11 and Cappie Pondexter and Lindsay Whalen finished with 10 points, respectively.
Ohlde managed to connect on just 1-of-6 shots against the Australians for three points. However, she was strong on the defensive end, grabbing a near team-high six rebounds, including a team-best two offensive boards, with two steals in 21 minutes. Wecker hit two free throws for her two points in seven minutes with one steal.
For the tournament, Ohlde is averaging 8.0 points per game on 38.8 percent shooting with 6.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.0 assists per game. She is first on the team in free throws (18), free throws attempted (27) and offensive rebounds (21). Ohlde has started all seven games and is averaging just over 22 minutes per game. Wecker, who is managing 11.6 minutes per contest, is averaging 5.0 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. She is second among reserves with 12 steals.