The United States U-16 national team played against the host country Friday night but a strong effort on the boards and on the defensive end had the Americans feeling at home.
Team USA out-rebounded Mexico 70-23, forced 21 turnovers, and held its opponent to 25.9 percent shooting as it clinched the top seed out of Group A with an 85-44 victory in the FIBA Americas U-16 Championship in Puebla, Mexico.
"I thought we played disciplined," Team USA coach Dori Oldaker said. "At times we had some mental lapses but, overall, we played four good quarters."
Team USA (3-0) faces Brazil (2-1) in the first semifinal game Saturday at 7 p.m., followed by Mexico (2-1) taking on Canada (3-0). Canada clinched the top seed out of Group B with its 64-50 win over Brazil Friday. Saturday's winners will meet for the gold medal Sunday at 9 p.m. with the bronze medal game set for 7 p.m.
The four semifinalists have clinched berths in the 2016 FIBA U-17 world championships.
Playing with the home-court advantage, Mexico took an early three-point lead but Team USA responded with nine unanswered points en route to a 16-10 lead after one quarter.
"The environment was definitely insane, but I was really proud of the way that we played," Team USA forward Jade Williams said. "We definitely took the crowd out and just played USA Basketball, the way we know how to play. It was very enjoyable, probably one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had in my life. You have to just have to depend on your teammates and your coaches and be confident in yourself in order to play against that."
A 12-2 run pushed the lead to 16 and it was 33-19 at halftime. UConn Class of 2017 commit Andra Espinoza-Hunter then hit back-to-back 3-pointers (her only points of the game) in a 10-2 run to start the third quarter that broke it wide open.
"Our team as a whole did good with the crowd, sticking together and not getting frustrated when it became loud," Team USA guard Destiny Littleton said. "We made sure everyone was on the same page, first and foremost."
Littleton finished with a game high 17 points. Alexis Morris added 15 points and four assists while Aquira DeCosta contributed a double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds. Sedona Prince had 14 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots. Espinoza-Hunter played a team high 24 minutes and was 2-for-10 from the floor for her six points with two rebounds and two assists.
A win over Brazil Saturday will give Team USA a chance to play for a fourth straight gold medal at this event.
"I'm excited," Williams said. "I feel like it is going to be a good competition and I think we are ready for them."
Lister homecomingJust days after signing on with the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks, UConn graduate assistant coach Jasmine Lister was back in Connecticut playing against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena Friday night.
In her second game for the short-handed Sparks, the 5-foot-4 point guard out of Vanderbilt University played 31 minutes off the bench and had seven points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal, and four turnovers in an 80-76 overtime loss.
Due to injuries and international commitments, and with All-Star Candace Parker sitting out to rest, Los Angeles (0-6) dressed just eight players against the Sun and coach Brian Agler used seven. Andrea Hoover, a third-round draft pick who helped Dayton to the NCAA tournament Albany Regional final in March, had 17 points in 40 minutes of her first pro start.
"I look at these situations as an opportunity for something," Agler said in a press release. "When there's people out it gives other people opportunities and it is up to them to take advantage of it and she surely did tonight as did Jasmine Lister. She gave us a lot of quality minutes tonight. Lister had her first practice with us yesterday. She is smart and competitive and I know her well because we had her in camp last year in Seattle. We are happy to give her this opportunity, she is happy that she has it, and she has taken full advantage of it."
Lister, a native of Corona, California, had four points, four rebounds, and an assist in eight minutes in her WNBA debut Tuesday in Washington.
The Sparks wrap up their three-game east-coast trip Sunday when they take on the New York Liberty at Madison Square Garden.
(U-16 quotes courtesy of USA Basketball)