After a quiet first half, Breanna Stewart felt she needed to be more assertive on both ends of the court.
She certainly made her presence felt in the final 20 minutes.
Stewart scored 21 of her 23 points in the second half and A’ja Wilson added 20 points to help the United States beat China 100-88 on Sunday in the second day of the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.
“I needed to be more aggressive. There were a few things that I could have done better — defense and rebounding. Focus on that and the offense comes,” Stewart said.
China trailed only 36-35 midway through the second quarter as the U.S. was still trying to figure out a lineup that worked on offense and defense. The Americans then closed the half on a 12-4 burst. Wilson had six points during the run. Layshia Clarendon, who played a few minutes in the first game, also provided a spark off the bench in the spurt. She had two points, two assists and two rebounds.
The Chinese team hung around in the third quarter and trailed 60-54 before Stewart, who played in China the past few winters, took over. She scored nine of the next 11 points and China couldn’t get within seven the rest of the way.
“She was trailing a lot, and obviously the defense sucked down. The post players did a great job rim running,” U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. “That left Stewie wide open at the top of key and she took advantage of them time and again. That’s what we come to expect, Stewie like things. We needed her to be that way to give us some separation and widen our lead in the third quarter.”
The Americans were still missing Brittney Griner, who suffered a slight sprain of her right ankle in practice Friday. Griner said after the win over Senegal she would have played if it was an elimination game. China was able to exploit the lack of Griner with its own 6-foot-9 center Han Xu.
Han showed an impressive array of post moves as well as a deft touch from 10 feet. The 18-year-old finished with 20 points and left to a warm ovation from the crowd with 20 seconds left.
“Coach encouraged us to play with confidence. The U.S. is a very good team. We just went out and enjoyed ourselves,” said China guard Shao Ting, who had 10 points.
The Chinese team, which is the youngest in the tournament with the average age 23 years, lost to the U.S. by 43 points in the 2016 Olympics.
The U.S. (2-0) hasn’t lost to China (1-1) in six meetings in the World Cup. The Americans won the first five meetings by an average of 25.8 points.
The victory was the Americans’ 18th in a row in the tournament and 43rd in the past 44 games in the World Cup. The only blemish over the past 20 years was a loss to Russia in the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup. Sunday’s game came on the 12th anniversary of that loss.
CHINA CONNECTION: Many of the U.S. players have competed in China in the offseason. Stewart, Griner, Morgan Tuck, Jewell Loyd and Tina Charles all have spent time there. Wilson will be headed there this year.
“You’re having some of the top WNBA players going over there to China and showing them the standards of what we put ourselves through,” Stewart said.
RECOVERING: Elena Delle Donne played only 3 ½ minutes on Sunday. She suffered a bone bruise in the WNBA playoffs and is still recovering. She said that she and Staley would talk before each game to discuss how she was feeling.
Delle Donne said after the game the back to back was difficult.
SCOREBOARD: Senegal won its first game in pool play, edging Latvia 70-69. It was Senegal’s first World Cup victory in 12 years. In other games, Canada beat South Korea 82-63; Australia routed Argentina 84-43; Japan edged Belgium 77-75 in OT; France beat Greece 75-71. Spain-Puerto Rico and Nigeria-Turkey were set to play later.
China: will face Senegal on Tuesday with second place in the group at stake.
U.S.: will face Latvia on Tuesday looking to continue its dominance.
Source: The Associated Press