The U.S. trailed Nigeria for most of the first half of their FIBA World Cup quarterfinal.
Even with 2-for-16 shooting in the first quarter, the Americans rattled off eight straight points going into the break, then rolled to a 71-40 win in the Canary Islands on Friday.
“We had a lot of layups that just didn’t go in, and we weren’t too concerned about it,” Breanna Stewart, who scored a game-high 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting, said, according to USA Basketball. “We were happy with our defense, and we knew offense was going to come.”
The U.S., rallying from a 17-9 deficit after the opening frame, improved to 13-0 all-time against African nations at the senior level.
If the U.S. wins its next two games for a third straight world title (and 2020 Olympic qualification), it will run its record between the Olympics and World Cup to 100-1 in the last 22 years. The lone loss came to Russia in the 2006 Worlds semifinals.
Next up in Saturday’s semifinals: 28th-ranked Belgium, playing in the Olympics or the World Cup for the first time. The Belgians crushed world No. 3 France 86-65 in a later Friday quarterfinal.
This American team is without stalwarts from its previous decade of undefeated play at the Olympics and worlds. Tamika Catchings and Lindsay Whalen retired after Rio. Candace Parker said she will not play for Team USA again after being left off the 2016 Olympic team.
Minnesota Lynx stars Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles and Maya Moore, as well as Angel McCoughtry, are reportedly either resting or recuperating from injuries following the WNBA season.
It wasn’t until the U.S.’ fourth game of the tournament Friday that Brittney Griner was well enough from an ankle injury to join Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart and Tina Charles as starters. Elena Delle Donne, who suffered a knee injury in the WNBA playoffs, saw significant action for the first time in three games with 17 minutes off the bench against Nigeria.
The U.S. has still won all of its games by double digits, but none came against a world power.
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