Aug. 2, 2009
BANGKOK, Thailand — Thanks to a near-perfect shooting performance in the first quarter, the United States U19 National Team surged to an early 17-point lead and never looked back, cruising to an 87-71 victory over Spain on Sunday night in the gold medal game of the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship at the Bangkok Thai-Japan Youth Center in Bangkok, Thailand. It’s the third consecutive gold medal and fourth in the past five U19 World Championships for the United States, which has won 26 of its last 27 games at the tournament and avenged that lone defeat (in the ’09 tourney opener vs. Spain) with Sunday’s victory.
Notre Dame incoming freshman guard and USA co-captain Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the gold medal game against Spain, as the five American starters all scored in double figures. Co-captain Nnemkadi Ogwumike led the way with 22 points and 20 rebounds, while Samantha Prahalis contributed 21 points and Kelsey Bone chipped 18 points. Shenise Johnson added 11 points and 10 rebounds, as the United States rode the backs of three of its collegiate veterans (Stanford’s Ogwumike, Ohio State’s Prahalis and Miami’s Johnson), as well as two of the top incoming college freshmen in the country (Notre Dame’s Diggins and South Carolina’s Bone).
“Oh my goodness, It never gets old,” Diggins said. “We went full circle from the time we played Spain and we got another chance at them, and we just put our all into it and really went for the gold as a team together. We really came together over the last couple of days and finally started playing some team ball and got a gold medal.
“It’s been amazing,” she added. “I can’t really describe it. I wouldn’t have wanted to go through this with another group of girls. We’re like a family now and we’ll remember each other even when we go off to our respective colleges. I know everybody will have a great career, we’ll keep in touch with each other, and we’ll never forget the night that we won the gold medal.”
Sunday’s victory was especially sweet — literally — for Diggins, who celebrated her 19th birthday with both a gold medal and a postgame birthday cake. It’s the third time in the past three years that Diggins has earned a gold medal while playing for USA Basketball, adding to the awards she picked up at the 2007 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival and the 2008 FIBA U18 Americas Championship.
Diggins started eight times in the USA’s nine games at this year’s U19 World Championship (she missed the matchup with Canada during pool play because of illness), averaging 11.6 points (third on the team, 16th for entire tournament), 3.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists (second on the team, 11th for entire tournament) and 1.1 steals per game. She also led the Stars & Stripes with an .857 free throw percentage (18-of-21, tied for third in entire tournament) and nine three-pointers (her .333 percentage was second on the team and 12th in tournament), while her 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio (15 assists, six turnovers) would have been tops for the entire tournament, but she was one assist shy of the minimum qualifying standard (2.0 assists per game).
In addition, Diggins’ latest gold medal continues an impressive run of international success for the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, with Fighting Irish players now having struck gold four times in the past six years. Ruth Riley (’01) started the run as a member of the victorious U.S. Senior National Team at the 2004 Athens Olympics, followed by Megan Duffy (’06), who led the 2005 USA World University Games Team to the top of the medal stand in Izmir, Turkey. Two years later, current Notre Dame senior guard Melissa Lechlitner (Mishawaka, Ind./South Bend St. Joseph’s) became the first South Bend-area female to earn a gold medal in international competition, helping the United States win the 2007 U19 World Championship in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Although it cooled off after the hot-shooting first quarter on Sunday, the USA U19 squad (8-1) finished with a solid .442 field goal percentage (34-of-77) and a strong 46-33 edge in the rebounding column. The difference in the game turned out to be the American defense, which held Spain (8-1) to .338 shooting (26-of-77), including a dismal 4-of-25 effort (.160) from the three-point line. By contrast, in their first matchup (a 90-86 Spain victory on July 23), the Spaniards connected on 8-of-17 (.471) beyond the arc.
Leonor Rodriguez had a team-high 21 points for Spain, which still claimed its first-ever medal at the U19 World Championship. Argentina pulled away from Canada in the closing moments to post a 58-51 victory in the bronze medal game, with both of those countries also registered their best-ever finishes at the U19 tournament (which began in 1985).
“We started out better than any team I’ve seen play,” said Carol Owens, USA and Northern Illinois University head coach (and an assistant coach at Notre Dame from 1996-2005). “We were ready; we were focused. Our intensity was very good. We knew at some point Spain was going to make their runs at us, but I think we held our composure. This was a gold medal team, and we earned every bit of it. We started out slow, but we got better and they believed in the vision that we had for them.”
The U.S. exacted a bit of revenge against its opponent. After opening the tournament with that heartbreaking loss to Spain, the United States proved it was not about to lose again, especially with a gold medal on the line.
Similar to the USA’s semifinal contest against Canada, Spain hit a three to open the game at 9:45. Behind six points from Bone, however, the United States reeled off 14 unanswered points for the game’s largest scoring run. From there, the teams swapped baskets, and with 3:28 to go in the first quarter, Spain hit a pair of free throws, closing the gap to 24-16. The USA’s defense then forced three turnovers while its offense scored nine straight, including a Prahalis floater in the lane that dropped as the buzzer sounded. The USA’s lead was 33-16 at the end of the first stanza, having shot a staggering 12 of-15 (.800) from the field in the opening 10 minutes.
The American lead never again dropped below double digits. The score stood at 41-26 with 4:41 to play when five different players scored in an 8-2 run that ended with LaSondra Barrett hitting one of two from the line with under a minute before halftime. Spain got two more from the line before the buzzer sounded, and as the teams headed into the locker rooms for the break, the United States held a 49-30 advantage.
By halftime, Prahalis already had 14 points, Bone had 10 and Ogwumike and Johnson were well on her way to their double-doubles. Ogwumike had nine points and seven boards, and Johnson posted nine points and six boards in the first half.
In the second half, Spain never was able to make a run and put together more than five points in a row, as the U.S. held on tight to its lead for the gold medal victory. By the end of the third quarter, during which Spain pulled as close as 67-54, Ogwumike had her double-double with 16 points and 13 boards. The U.S. outscored Spain, 20-17 in the fourth quarter and sailed in for the gold medal celebration.
— ND —
NOTE: USA Basketball contributed to portions of this release.