Brazil celebrated at center court Saturday as if it had won the gold medal at the FIBA Americas U-16 Championship.
Whether Brazil gets the gold will actually be determined Sunday night. But it will never forget what it did to earn the opportunity to play for it.
Brazil built a 22-point first-half lead then held off a fourth-quarter charge by the United States to upset the three-time defending gold-medal winners 72-63 in semifinal action in Puebla, Mexico.
"I think definitely Brazil came from the beginning showing that they wanted that championship game," Team USA forward Lauryn Miller said. "They never gave up. They never let up. With that 22-point lead, they never stopped working."
Brazil (3-1) will take on Canada (4-0) in the final Sunday at 9 p.m. Canada defeated Brazil 64-50 in Group B pool play Friday.
Team USA (3-1) will face Mexico (2-2) for the bronze medal Sunday at 7 p.m. The Americans routed Mexico 85-44 in Group A pool play Friday.
The loss in the FIBA Americas U-16 Championship was the first for Team USA in 19 games since the event was first held in 2009.
"Brazil, obviously, played really, really well," Team USA coach Dori Oldaker said. "I thought our kids played their tail ends off to get us back in the game. So, I'm proud of them for fighting through that big deficit."
Team USA never led. Brazil twice ran off eight unanswered points to turn one-point edges to nine. Then ahead by seven in the second quarter, Brazil used a 20-5 run to take a 45-23 second-quarter bulge. It was 45-27 at halftime.
"I felt like we came out with not as much energy as last night," Team USA guard Destiny Littleton said.
It was 58-41 after three quarters. The lead was 19 when guard Alexis Morris scored the first four points of a 12-0 run that got Team USA back in it. Guard Desiree Caldwell's basket made it 60-53 with 5:17 left.
Brazil stopped the spurt with an offensive rebound basket but a Morris 3-pointer cut it to 64-58 with 3:27 to go. The Americans had two chances to get closer but committed back-to-back turnovers and Brazil was able to put it away.
"We fought hard to get back in the game," Morris said. "We were down by 22. We came back and we played hard as a team. We came up short."
Iza Nicoletti Leite had 24 points, seven rebounds, and five assists for Brazil. Morris had 21 points and eight rebounds for Team USA but was just 5-for-17 from the floor. UConn Class of 2017 commit Andra Espinoza-Hunter, a guard from Ossining, New York, had nine points on 3-for-10 shooting from the floor and a 3-for-6 effort at the foul line to go with seven rebounds in a team high 36 minutes. Forward Jade Williams also had nine points and seven rebounds.
Team USA has qualified for the 2016 FIBA U-17 world championships. But it won't bring home gold from Mexico.
"We are ready to fight back," Littleton said. "We are not going to put our heads down over this. Losses happen, obviously. We don't want to lose. Redemption is tomorrow. Winning a bronze is obviously not as good as a gold, but we are going to fight for it."
(Quotes courtesy of USA Basketball)