NAPLES, Italy – After trailing for the majority of the game, USA Team finally began clicking on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter to defeat Mexico, 60-49, in the opening contest of the World University Games.
Down 45-41 going into the final period, the Red, White and Blue used a 15-0 run to storm past Mexico and put the game away. Eight different players scored points during the frame, but it was an offensive rebound followed by a layup by Yemiyah Morris that capped the run and sealed the deal.
However, it was USA Team's excellent defense that swung the momentum of the game in its favor, holding Mexico to just four points in the fourth quarter on 2-of-14 shooting. The first basket didn't come until 3:50 left in the game.
"Obviously, we were excited to win," said head coach Vic Schaefer. "In this event, it's hard to beat these teams that are older and wiser. We are so young, and we are learning to play together. Our chemistry is a long way from where we will be in February, but you're supposed to be that way. We only practiced three weeks. Again, I am proud of our resiliency. It wasn't our best night. You have to give Mexico a lot of credit. They played so hard and so well together. We have a lot of respect for them and how hard they played the game."
Rickea Jackson led the team in scoring with 10 points to go along with four assists and four steals. Morris finished with nine points and five rebounds, while Jessika Carter and Jazzmun Holmes added eight points each.
In the first quarter, Mexico went 8-of-10 at the charity stripe to take an early 18-15 lead, while the U.S. struggled with turnovers. During the second period, the two teams swapped buckets and entered halftime with Mexico leading, 33-30.
After intermission, the Red, White and Blue was slow to get the offense going, shooting 3-of-20 from the field in the third quarter. However, USA Team never fell behind by more than seven points in the game. The squad rallied with a 25-8 run in the final 15 minutes of the game to complete the comeback and earn its first victory in pool play.
“We weren’t communicating during the first half,” said Schaefer. “Moving forward, we are going to have to play better and shoot better. The hard thing about this event is that you don’t get any time in the arenas before you play, and you play somewhere different every day. We will be somewhere new tomorrow. Your shooters have to get ready in a hurry, and it’s hard. Not only are we shooting further behind the line due to FIBA rules, but you just don’t get many reps. You have to play defense, rebound and have an inside game if you want to win on the road, and we are going to be on the road for five more nights.”
Next up, the U.S. will take the hardwood against Taipei at 6 a.m. CT on July 4. A 10:30 a.m. CT tip against Slovakia on July 5 will round out pool play for the team. After that, the squad will move on to the bracket stages to play three more games in order to determine its placing. Those contests will be on July 7-10.