Lady Vols help Team USA win gold

SHENZHEN, China (release) -- Nnemkadi Ogwumike (Stanford/Cypress, Texas) finished the night with 24 points, nine rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals to lead the 2011 USA Basketball Women’s World University Games Team (6-0) to the gold medal with a 101-66 victory over Taiwan (5-1) on Sunday night in Shenzhen, China. Also coming up big on the night was Elena Delle Donne (Delaware/Wilmington, Del.), who barely missed a triple-double after contributing 18 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

University of Tennessee Lady Vols Glory Johnson (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Shekinna Stricklen (Morrilton, Ark.) each did their part chipping in a combined four points and three rebounds in the gold medal win. Johnson's lay-up put the USA squad over the century mark.

"This is incredible, the whole experience is awesome," said Johnson. "Finally having a gold medal, I've never had one before and I've never played on a USA team. This is just awesome."

While this was Johnson's first USA experience, Stricklen is a USA women's basketball veteran but winning the gold never gets old.

"It feels great! I am so excited. It's great having a gold medal around your neck. When you are on a USA team you are expected to win to win the gold medal. We've worked really hard the last three weeks," said Stricklen.

In all, four players scored in double digits, including Skylar Diggins (Notre Dame/South Bend, Ind.), who netted 19 points and dished out six of the USA’s WUG record-tying 27 assists; and Chiney Ogwumike (Stanford/Cypress, Texas) with 10 points and six rebounds. The original record for U.S. assists at this event was set against South Africa by the 2005 USA squad.

In the bronze medal game, Australia (5-1) broke a tie late in the game to pull away and defeat Sweden (3-3) 66-56 earlier in the evening.

USA Basketball has claimed gold at the last four WUGs in which it has entered a team (2001, 2005, 2009 and 2011). Further, the U.S., which has competed in a total of 16 World University Games, now owns a record eight golds, six silvers and one bronze medal and boasts a 95-15 all-time win-loss record in WUG play. Taiwan’s silver marks its first women’s basketball medal ever at the World University Games, while Australia previously claimed gold once and bronze twice.

“We wanted to go to Nneka (Ogwumike) early and often, and we did,” said Bill Fennelly, USA World University Games Team and Iowa State University head coach. “I think (tonight’s game) was even better than the game she played two years ago (in the U19 World Championship gold medal game). I think that says a lot about her, not just her talent, but her commitment and focus. You want your best players to step up at the biggest times, and a gold medal game is a good time to step up and do the things you can do.

“To our kids’ credit, we added an offense on our off day because we knew we had a size advantage,” he added. “We just wanted to pound it at them and we did. The kids were unselfish. We kept throwing it on the block and got a lot of easy baskets.”

The USA’s game plan of going inside early and often, making the most of its height advantage (Taiwan’s average height is 5’9” and the USA’s is 6”1”), paid off in spades as it outscored Taiwan 62-22 in the paint on the night and got all but its final field goal of the first quarter from inside.

After a pair of lead changes and two knotted scores early, with 5:53 to play in the first quarter the score was tied at 14-all. Devereaux Peters (Notre Dame/Chicago, Ill.) took a feed inside from Delle Donne that put the USA on top for good, 16-14, at 4:49. The Peters bucket was the start of a mini 7-3 run by the U.S. that ended with a Nneka Ogwumike three-point play, and with 1:52 to play in the period the American women were on top 23-17. Holding a five-point, 26-21, lead near the end of the quarter, the USA closed out the stanza up 29-21after a Jacki Gemelos (USC/Stockton, Calif.) sank a 3-pointer.

“Our game plan was definitely to pound the ball inside,” said Nneka Ogwumike, who had 13 points in the first quarter. “We played Australia, which was whole different extreme. Their shortest post player was 6-3. And then today, we played Taiwan and their tallest person was 6-1. We just kind of took advantage of what they had and what we had, and we executed as best we could.”

Taiwan quickly cut the gap back to six points, 25-31, but the U.S. strung together a 9-0 run and began to pull away, 40-25, with 7:05 left in the half. Taiwan began to counter each America bucket and cut the gap back down to 11 points, 46-35, at the 3:38 mark. However, a three from Diggins sparked another streak of nine unanswered points that stretched the advantage to 20 points, 55-35. Taiwan got the first half’s final points, one of its eight 3-pointers on the night, and the first half ended with the American women holding a commanding 55-38 upper hand.

“They were a phenomenal team, and they definitely gave us a lot of challenges because the way they play is completely different than anything we’ve ever seen,” said Delle Donne. “They move the ball around really fast, and they just were a very fast team. So, we had to get used to the pace of the game, and I feel like after the first half, we got it under our belts and were ready to go and came out really strong.”

Taiwan managed to cut it again to 15 points early in the second half, 57-42, but that was as close as it would get for the remainder of the contest. The USA’s depth and size were just too much for the Asian side as it put together a 12-0 string to put the game well out of reach, 69-42, with 5:06 left in the quarter. By the end of the third period, the stars and stripes owned a 75-54 lead.

Taiwan nailed a three to start the fourth period, but Diggins answered with back-to-back 3-pointers. Taiwan came back with another trey when Delle Donne hit the second of her threes on the night, spurring another a 12-0 run in which six different players scored, and suddenly it was a 33-point game, 93-60, with 4:08 still to play.

While the Taiwanese continued to play hard through the remainder of the game, they were just no match for the depth and strength of the gold medal winners.

“This has been a journey of a lifetime, and as coach said to us, ‘this hasn’t been just a three-month experience, it started from when we were young little girls growing up, dreaming of a moment like this.’ So, it’s incredible,” said Delle Donne, who averaged USA team highs of 15.7 ppg. and 8.5 rpg. throughout the tournament. “Words cannot even describe how incredible that felt. It felt really heavy for one, it’s an incredible medal. But it was such a special moment and to be standing next to my teammates. We worked so hard these past three weeks. I really can’t even describe it.”

Taiwan’s Yuchun Chen shot 3-of-6 from 3-point land and finished with a team-best 21 points, while Pinjen Huang was her team’s only other double-digit scorer with 11 points.

The USA, which owned a whopping 52-18 rebounding advantage, saved its best shooting for the final game as it shot a deadly 58.3 percent (42-72 FGs) from the field and an even 50.0 percent (7-14 3pt FGs) from 3-point, while its defense held Taiwan to 41.4 percent (29-70 FGs) shooting from the floor and 29.6 percent (8-27 3pt FGs) from beyond the arc.

This marks the third straight gold as a team for Fennelly, Diggins and Nneka Ogwumike, who were all also members of the 2008 USA U18 National Team and 2009 USA U19 World Championship Team.

“It’s just amazing,” reflected Fennelly. “Nneka and Sky have been through a lot. This is the third time I’ve had them, twice as an assistant and now as a head coach. They are great players, but they are even better people. I think they were the true leaders of our team. Everyone knew it from the beginning. They followed what we asked them to do, and their experience really paid off and showed the other kids what the international game is all about – the travel and how you just have to fight through it day-by-day. At the end of the day, they have another gold medal and they deserve it.”

Assisting Fennelly on the USA sideline are Suzie McConnell-Serio of Duquesne University and Terri Williams-Flournoy of Georgetown University.

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