As UConn star Breanna Stewart pointed out on Twitter: "A win is a win."
Kentucky junior Linnae Harper hit two free throws with 7.7 seconds left and made a steal on Cuba's final possession as the United States national team advanced to the gold-medal game of the Pan American Games with a 65-64 come-from-behind win Sunday in Toronto.
Team USA (4-0) will play Canada (4-0) in the final Monday at 8:45 p.m. Canada coasted past Brazil 91-63 Sunday.
"It feels really good," Team USA and South Carolina forward Alaina Coates said. "Stewie was saying how the last time she played in this, they came in seventh place, and now we are playing for gold. So, it's a really exciting feeling, and I’m just glad I’m a part of this."
Harper led the Americans with 16 points and four steals while Maryland's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added 15 points. UConn senior All-American Moriah Jefferson had 12 points (6 for 17 shooting), six rebounds, and five assists with five turnovers while playing all 40 minutes. Stewart played 35 minutes and had 10 points (4 for 13 shooting) and five rebounds.
Team USA led by one after one quarter. Cuba then used a 13-2 run to go up by 10 and led 37-26 at halftime. The Americans trailed by as many as 14 early in the third quarter but at 46-34, they ran off 12 unanswered points to tie it. Cuba got the last basket of the period to lead 48-46 going to the fourth.
Coates (10 points, 15 rebounds) took a pass from Jefferson and made a layup that gave Team USA its first lead of the second half at 58-57 with 3:33 left. Harper followed with a 3-pointer but Cuba scored five straight points to go back in front. Stewart came up with a blocked shot and Coates scored off her own miss to put Team USA up 63-62 with 47.2 seconds to go.
The Americans got a defensive stop but Jefferson lost the ball when double teamed at midcourt. Ineidis Casanova's steal and layup put Cuba ahead by one with 13.3 seconds remaining. After a time out, Harper drove to the basket and was fouled. Her two free throws made it 65-64.
"All I could really think about was my teammates," Harper said. "We've put in so much work for three weeks, every day, just trying to get better and fight for a gold. I just wanted to do it for everybody and for the coaching staff. I think we really deserve it. We've worked really hard.
"Yes, I was very nervous. There was a lot going through my head but I just had to have confidence in myself and know that I was going to knock those free throws down for my teammates."
Cuba went for the win, but Oyanaisy Gelis lost possession on a drive to the basket and Harper took over and ran out the clock.
"To be honest, I think we needed that game," Harper said. "I think this was a great matchup to prepare us for the championship game. As a team, we are getting better with our chemistry on the court and I definitely think it paid off. We are just going to keep fighting and getting ready for the game tomorrow."
Team Canada had no problems in advancing to Monday's final. UConn sophomore guard Kia Nurse had nine points and three rebounds for the host country.
Collier, USA go to 2-0
UConn freshman Napheesa Collier had 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting and six rebounds Sunday as Team USA wrapped up the top seed in Group A with an 88-62 win over China at the FIBA U-19 world championships in Chekhov, Russia.
UConn Class of 2016 commit Crystal Dangerfield chipped in seven points and five rebounds. South Carolina sophomore A'ja Wilson had a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds.
"We had a really good first half," Dangerfield said. "Our second half was kind of slow. But, I think we'll be ready to come back out to practice tomorrow and work on that.
Collier scored nine points and a Dangerfield basket at the buzzer gave Team USA a 29-17 lead after one quarter. At 38-26, the Americans ran off 12 straight points to double their lead en route to an insurmountable 55-29 advantage at halftime.
"When we were playing hard, our ball pressure was really good," Dangerfield said. "We still have to close out more, but our ball pressure has been good."
Team USA wraps up Group A play Tuesday at 1:15 p.m. (EDT) against Egypt (0-2).
(Quotes courtesy of USA Basketball)