The U.S. dominated from start to finish in a blowout 73-56 win over Australia in FIBA Women's World Cup.
Breanna Stewart is on quite a roll.
And Sunday, Stewart pulled off another trifecta at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in San Cristobal de la Laguna, Spain.
After the United States cruised to a 73-56 victory over Australia in the final, Stewart claimed a gold medal (an unprecedented third straight for the Americans), a spot on the World Cup All-Star team and the tournament MVP award.
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“It’s definitely been quite the year,” Stewart said. “I was just trying to bring whatever I could to this team. With USA Basketball, there are so many other great players around you. You don’t have to do as much. You just have to do whatever it takes to win the gold.
“It’s been a great year, especially right after coming off of a WNBA championship. This is the best that it can be. And anytime I have the opportunity to represent the USA, obviously, the goal is the gold medal, especially with this group, with these vets. They show us the way to do it.”
Stewart has made a rapid ascension to international stardom since her World Cup debut with the U.S. team in 2014. That year, the Connecticut junior was last on the team with 1.8 points per game. At the 2016 Olympics, Stewart was the youngest American and played the second-fewest minutes on the team.
And now, she’s a three-time MVP in a span of a couple of months.
“It’s been an incredible few months, that’s for sure,” Stewart said. “The biggest thing about it all is it’s all focused on team. Winning a championship in Seattle and then coming here knowing I’m playing with 11 of the other best players in the world.
“Not needing to play outside of my game and just do what I do best to help us win gold. And anything else that comes with that, it’s great. It’s nice to win the MVP, but I was more concerned about the gold medal.”
The 6-foot-4 forward averaged a team-high 16.3 points, plus 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 58 percent from the field and 47.1 percent on three-pointers. She scored in double digits in all six games, including 10 points on Sunday against Australia.
Stewart received loads of help throughout the tournament from a team that extended its World Cup winning streak to 22 dating back to a 2006 bronze medal win.
Brittney Griner, a 6-9 center, came up big for the U.S. in a much-anticipated matchup against Australia’s 6-8 post Liz Cambage, who entered the gold-medal game leading all World Cup scorers with 27.2 points per game and making 68.4 percent of her shots.
However, Griner dominated their battle and was voted player of the game.
The Phoenix Mercury player finished with a game-high 15 points while holding Cambage, the Dallas standout who finished runner-up in the WNBA MVP voting, to seven points on 2-for-10 shooting.
“What makes us good is the ability to have layers and layers of players that give (Cambage) different looks,” said U.S. coach Dawn Staley, who became the first person to win a World Cup title as a player, assistant and head coach. “I thought BG did a a great job starting the game to where we didn’t have to go to our Plan B. (Griner) was it. She got us started off on the right foot and we just never looked back.”
With Cambage neutralized, USA led from start to finish and took control early with a 10-0 spurt while Australia missed its first eight shots.
The U.S. team had leads of 20-15 after the first quarter and 35-27 at the break despite shooting 25 percent in the first half.
For the third straight day, the Americans put the game out of reach in the second half.
In Friday’s quarterfinals, the U.S. team was up 27-23 at the break before outscoring Nigeria 44-17 in the second half for a comfortable 71-40 win.
In Saturday’s semifinals, the United States led 40-39 at halftime and outscored Belgium 33-18 in the third to cruise to a 93-77 victory.
And on Sunday, the U.S. used a 26-11 third quarter to put Australia away. Storm reserve guard Sami Whitcomb added three points off the bench for the Aussies.
The U.S. became the first nation to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic tournament.
It was a milestone victory for Storm star Sue Bird, who became the first player, male or female, in FIBA World Cup history to earn four gold medals. Bird, who finished with six points and five assists, passed Staley to become the USA Women’s World Cup all-time assists leader.
Early in the first quarter, Bird connected with Stewart for a three-pointer to tie the record and 20 seconds later found Diana Taurasi for another three to set the mark.
“Of course it’s fitting,” said Bird, who has 107 career assists. “How do I talk about five World Cups, four gold medals in those five opportunities and not talk about Diana?
“We’ve been doing this for so long. I’ve seen her carry us. I’ve seen her be everything, and I’ve just been there to kind of watch at times. And, it’s been a lot of fun to watch her do what she does. So for her to help me get that, it is very fitting, because we’ve been doing this together. It’d almost be weird if she didn’t, to be honest.”
Since the 1996 Olympic Games, the USA Basketball Women’s National Team program has posted a 100-1 record in major international competitions while winning six consecutive Olympic gold medals (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016), five FIBA World Championship golds (1998, 2002, 2010, 2014, 2018) and a FIBA World Championship bronze (2006).
“It’s a tough tournament, it’s always the hardest one to win,” said Taurasi, who scored 13 points and was picked to the World Cup All-Star team. “It’s a grind. It’s physically tough. It’s mentally tough when you talk about playing three games in three nights. You just don’t do that anymore as a pro. This is the only tournament that challenges you in that way.”
Storm standout Jewell Loyd had nine points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals on Sunday. She became the first player to win a world championship in both 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 competitions. Loyd was part of the U.S. national 3-on-3 team that took gold in 2014.
— Spain beat Belgium 67-60 to win the bronze medal. France topped China 81-67 to come in fifth and Canada edged Nigeria 73-72 to finish seventh.