The United States’ U19 women’s World Championship team opened defense of its gold medal with a 72-57 victory against Spain on Saturday in Chekov, Russia.
Naphessa Collier, from Incarnate Word outside St. Louis, had 13 points, a game-high 14 rebounds, five assists and three steals in the victory. A’ja Wilson (University of South Carolina) had a game-high 18 points with 10 rebounds and Shakayla Thomas (Florida State) had 15 points.
The Americans used strong defense to overcome a sluggish start. Team USA finished with 22 steals from 28 Spain turnovers. The bigger U.S. team also outscored the Spanish team 44-24 in the paint.
The USA faces China on Sunday (1:15 p.m. EDT) in Group B play.
“We came out with a sluggish start, but that’s why you have assembled 12 of the best young players in the country,” Team USA and South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “When we’re not getting the execution that we need on both sides of the ball, we’ll just substitute and try to find the right combination to get us going.
“We did a really good job when we inserted Shakayla (Thomas) in. Even Destiny (Slocum), getting off the plane, flying over half of the day and being able to give us some valuable minutes. Crystal Dangerfield was great in being able to push the tempo and get our defense going in the right direction.”
The U.S. team took a 36-24 lead into halftime. Spain twice pulled as close as six points in the third quarter. With the U.S. holding a 43-37 lead with 5:39 to play, Thomas made a three-point play and the U.S.went on a 16-3 run.
In the fourth quarter, Mariya Moore (Louisville) picked up steals on four consecutive possession to help lead an 11-0 surge to put the game out of reach.
Slocum (Mountain View High in Idaho) was named to the team Friday when Katie Lou Samuelson had to return to Southern California because of a family illness. She left Idaho on Friday Mountain time, got to Moscow on Saturday evening local time and arrived in time for warmups.
“I knew that my shot was probably going to be off because I hadn’t shot in over 24 hours, so I thought, why not come out, play some really hard ‘D,’ and then maybe everything would fall after that,” said Slocum. “I also wanted to help the team with energy. That was my goal.
“It was worth 24 hours of travel, I can tell you that. You wait 17 years for something and then it happens. I think it just felt awesome.”