Before No. 1 high school basketball prospect Paige Bueckers starts her career at Connecticut — or before she even graduates from high school — she is taking some time to help the U.S. women’s 3×3 team make a late charge in the world rankings before next year’s Olympics.
On the beachside court at Qatar’s Katara Beach, the 19th-ranked U.S. women opened the World Beach Games with a couple of routs over the Dominican Republic (22-5) and Jordan (22-4), clinching a spot in the knockout rounds.
Top-ranked Russia should have provided tougher competition Tuesday, with the group win and a better seed in the playoffs at stake, but the U.S. rolled to a 22-3 win.
The U.S. women are currently ranked 19th, but check back as the rankings change daily. The rankings require a bit of calculus, but in general, they reward not just results but participation, a disadvantage for North American teams that don’t have as many international events within easy traveling distance.
Their effort in Qatar won’t be enough to climb into the top three to take one of the automatic Olympic qualifying spots by the Nov. 1 deadline, but they should easily have enough points to reach the qualifying tournament in March.
In last year’s 3×3 World Cup, the U.S. women also defeated Russia 21-13 in pool play but dropped a 17-14 decision to Italy in the quarterfinals. Ruthy Hebard, a University of Oregon forward from Alaska who is projected as a top pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, is the sole carry-over from that team to this year’s World Beach Games team. Hebard and Oregon teammate Sabrina Ionescu, who is not playing in Qatar, were on the U.S. team that took gold at the Pan Am Games this summer.
Two of Hebard’s teammates in Qatar, Jackie Young and Napheesa Collier, have just finished their rookie seasons in the WNBA. Collier, the 2019 WNBA Rookie of the Year with the Minnesota Lynx, has plenty of international experience, including a win in the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. Young, who is making her international debut, was the top pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft and led the Las Vegas Aces with 4.5 assists per game in her rookier year.
Bueckers, who will turn 18 next week, has already helped U.S. teams win three gold medals in youth full-court tournaments — 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup, the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup, the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship — plus 3×3 gold at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. She was MVP of the U19 World Cup earlier this year.
The team had a balanced attack in its first two games, with Hebard and Collier each averaging 6 points per game under 3×3’s unique scoring system — 1 point for a field goal inside the arc, 2 points for a shot beyond the arc, and 1 point for a free throw. Bueckers hit 4 of 8 2-pointers in the first two games and averaged 5.5 points, and Young chipped in 4.5 per game.
Young took charge against Russia, hitting 7-of-14 1-point shots and two free throws for 9 points. Collier had 6 points, including a 2-pointer. Bueckers hit two shots from beyond the arc for 4 points, and Hebard added 3 on 1-point shots. The team’s defense held Russia to 14% shooting.
The U.S. did not enter the men’s 3×3 competition in Qatar. The men are already guaranteed a spot in next year’s Olympic qualifying event.
Elsewhere at the World Beach Games:
- Daniela Moroz won the women’s kitefoil racing event, Guenther Oka and Jamie Lopina each took bronze in wakeboarding, and Gakuji Tozaki earned bronze in the karate kata event, which is now an Olympic event.
- The U.S. women’s beach soccer team, which just completed its first-ever training camp, finished 1-2 in pool play.
- In 4×4 beach volleyball, the U.S. women have advanced to the final, while the U.S. men will play in the semifinals.
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