Diggins leads USA to Gold Medal GamePublished 3:35pm Friday, August 19, 2011
SHENZHEN, China — Notre Dame junior guard Skylar Diggins scored 17 points and added game-highs of four assists and two steals as the United States defeated Australia, 79-67 in the semifinals of the 2011 World University Games Friday night at the Universiade Main Gym in Shenzhen, China.
Fighting Irish fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters (Chicago, Ill./Fenwick) scored eight points on 4-of-6 shooting, while senior guard Natalie Novosel (Lexington, Ky./Lexington Catholic) started and collected six points for the Americans (5-0), who advance to Sunday’s gold medal game against Taiwan (5-0), also at the Universiade Main Gym. The final will tip off at 9:30 a.m. and a live webcast of the game can be seen at www.livefisu.tv (viewers will need to register for a free login in order to access the webcast).
Elena Delle Donne was the only other USA player to score in double figures, posting a double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Team USA shot a tournament-low .385 (30-of-78) from the field, but also played stout defense when it mattered most, holding the previously-unbeaten Australians to a .371 field goal percentage (26-of-70), including just 4-of-19 (.211) from the three-point line. The U.S. also claimed a 54-41 rebounding edge and forced the Opals into 17 turnovers.
“We played great,” said Bill Fennelly, United States head coach (as well as the skipper at Iowa State University and a former assistant at Notre Dame). “Australia was an outstanding team, a big, physical team. Our team played the way a USA Basketball team should play in a semifinal, trying to get to a gold medal game. Elena was fantastic from start to finish. Skylar got us organized offensively and defensively, and I thought Lynetta Kizer gave us a great lift off of the bench when Nneka (Ogwumike) got in foul trouble. It was a huge team effort, and it’s exciting for this team to know we have the chance to play for a gold medal. They had to earn it, and that’s the way it should be.”
As is expected whenever these two countries meet, at no matter what level, it’s a battle, and Friday was no different. While the U.S. took an early lead, Australia was never far behind, and a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter, with scoring contributions from four different players, helped the Americans distance themselves for good.
With the U.S. holding a 53-46 edge heading into the final stanza, neither team was able to get anything to fall until Nnemkadi Ogwumike got a put-back at 8:35, sparking a 9-0 streak of unanswered points that saw Peters drive to the hoop for a two, Delle Donne go in for a layin and Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) convert a three-point play. With 6:40 to play in the contest, the U.S. finally was able to pull away from Australia, 62-46.
The Aussies didn’t bow out quietly, but they were never again able to cut it to single digits as the U.S. advanced to the gold medal contest.
“Throughout the tournament, Coach (Fennelly) has always said our third quarter is our worst quarter, so I think we wanted to really pull away,” Diggins said. “With us only being up by four points, we were very uncomfortable with that lead. We wanted to stretch it out and really try to push the first couple minutes of the second half to get us going. And then off the bench, we had great energy and intensity to help us maintain that lead. Luckily, the time ran off the clock because they are a smart team, and they are very capable of coming back. We were just glad we were able to hold on.”
Australia got the first lead of the game, but it was short lived. With the score knotted at 6-6 after a pair of throws by Nneka Ogwumike at 7:09 in the first stanza, Delle Donne notched the game’s next five points, a jumper at the top of the key and a three-pointer, giving her side a lead at 6:32 that it would never relinquish. That also kick-started a 10-2 run by the red, white and blue, and at 4:16 the U.S. led 16-8. Australia answered back with a 9-4 spurt to cut the USA’s lead to 20-17 at the end of the first period.
The second quarter was a back-and-forth fight as neither team managed to string together more than four consecutive points, and at halftime the USA’s lead was four, 31-27.
Diggins and Delle Donne hit back-to-back buckets to start the second half, which were followed by a jumper by Peters. With Australia on its heels, the American women looked to be starting to pull away as Shekinna Stricklen knocked down a three to cap the USA’s 9-0 run at 7:40.
The Australians wouldn’t back down easily, however. Capitalizing on a defensive lapse by the U.S., they put together an 11-3 run, and with 3:50 remaining in the quarter the gap was narrowed to five points, 43-38.
Seven seconds later, Novosel drove to the hoop, was fouled and converted on a three-point play and then came back down and netted a three-pointer, giving the U.S. a double-digit margin, 49-38, with 3:11 to go in the quarter. Australia again fought back, and with 10 minutes remaining in the contest, clipped it to 53-46.
Foul trouble limited Nneka Ogwumike’s minutes in the first half as she was whistled for her second foul at 6:41 in the first stanza and did not reenter the game until the second half. She and her sister Chiney were called for four each. Australia also was hampered by fouls as 2010 Australia World Championship Team member Abby Bishop fouled out of the game and three of her side’s top players had four apiece by the end of the night.
Australia, which lists five members of its senior national team pool on its World University Games roster, was led by two who are not members of the Opals roster as Nicole Hunt scored 18 points and Cayla Francis finished with 15 points and a game-best 14 rebounds.
After facing a physical Australian side with four players standing 6-foot-4 or taller, the United States now goes to the opposite end of the spectrum, as it gets to set to play the gold medal game against Taiwan, which features only one player standing taller than six feet (and she’s 6-foot-1). The Taiwanese advanced to Sunday’s final with a 71-70 overtime win over Sweden in Thursday’s other semifinal, with four of Taiwan’s five starters playing more than 40 minutes into the contest.
The USA and Taiwan will be squaring off at the World University Games for the third time, with the Americans winning both prior matchups, each in the preliminary round (84-73 in 1993, and 109-57 in 2005).