SYDNEY — The United States is quickly identifying itself as a stellar defensive squad by using its athleticism to make it difficult for opponents to score.
Shakira Austin scored 19 points, Kahleah Copper added 16 and the U.S. played suffocating defense to rout Puerto Rico 106-42 on Friday in the FIBA Women’s World Cup.
“We talk every day about being hard to play against, getting deflections, and the team has really bought into that,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.
The Americans (2-0) forced Puerto Rico into 21 turnovers and contested nearly every shot, making every point tough to come by.
“It’s fun playing on a team that loves to play defense. It really fuels our offense,” said Alyssa Thomas, who had six of the Americans’ 13 steals.
The U.S. jumped out to a 27-11 lead after one quarter as Thomas had 10 points and five steals in the opening 10 minutes. The Americans forced nine turnovers in the period. The U.S. kept the pressure on in the second, holding Puerto Rico without a point for nearly the first five minutes of the period.
Mya Hollingshed finally ended the drought, making a contested 3-pointer that made it 40-17. The Americans led 54-21 at the half. There was little drama in the second half as the U.S. kept extending its lead.
The Americans contained guard Arella Guirantes, who had 26 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in Puerto Rico’s opening win over Bosnia and Herzegovina. She was held to seven points on 2-of-12 shooting. The U.S. threw four or five different defenders at her, starting with Copper.
“We like to be aggressive on both ends,” Breanna Stewart said. “We can and will guard multiple positions and make it hard for the other team. Our activity and awareness of one and another on the defensive end will go a long way in the tournament.”
The U.S. now has won 24 consecutive World Cup games since losing in the 2006 semifinals to Russia. The Americans are two wins short of matching their record 26-game run from 1998-2006.
Puerto Rico (1-1) was coming off its first-ever World Cup win. Hollingshed, who played in college at Colorado, finished with 10 points.
“The U.S. is the most important team in the tournament, but for us we are just trying to win one more game,” Puerto Rico captain Pamela Rosado said.
Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum landed in Sydney after celebrating the Las Vegas Aces’ first WNBA championship with a parade on Tuesday. They sat on the U.S. bench and cheered on their teammates. A’ja Wilson, the third member of the championship team, was expected to land in Sydney later Friday.
“We’ll get some time in the morning with them before we play against a really good China team tomorrow,” Reeve said. “The depth will be helpful.”
Led by Austin, the U.S. reserves outscored Puerto Rico’s 47-21. Brionna Jones added 15 points and nine boards.
As good as the U.S. defense was, it wasn’t the lowest scoring total by an American opponent. Argentina had 22 points in 1953. … The Americans also fell short of the margin-of-victory record held by the 2014 team that beat Angola 119-44. … Thomas also fell one short of the U.S. record for steals in a game set by Cheryl Miller in 1986. Tamika Catchings had six against Russia in 2002. Olga Gomez of Cuba holds the World Cup record of 10 against France in 1994.
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