— Achonwa posts 10 points and 6 boards for Canadians; Kayla Alexander, Kelsey Mitchell and Tiffany Mitchell all make senior national team debuts
BRIDGEPORT — The USA Basketball Women’s National Team overcame a 16-point deficit in a 74-68 win over Canada on Saturday night at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The USA outscored Canada by 18 points in the final two quarters to avoid its first loss on home soil since a 65-64 exhibition defeat at the University of Tennessee on Nov. 7, 1999. A key in the USA victory was limiting the second half output of Indiana Fever center Natalie Achonwa who helped pace the Canadians with 10 points and a team-high six rebounds. Achonwa shot 4-of-5 with eight points in the first half, but only managed two points and three shot attempts over the final two quarters.
USA and University of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley spoke about the positives of competing in a close game.
“Everyone is used to seeing us blow teams out, and obviously that didn’t happen tonight,” Staley said. “This helps build chemistry. It helps me as a coach to see who we can call on.”
A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces) answered the call by leading the USA with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Wilson, Napheesa Collier (Connecticut), Elizabeth Williams (Atlanta Dream) and Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces) played the entire fourth quarter. Layshia Clarendon (Connecticut Sun) played seven of the 10 fourth-quarter minutes.
Achonwa, Canada’s starting center and a two-time Olympian, and guard Kia Nurse (New York Liberty) who finished with a game-high 22 points, were Canada’s only double-digit scorers. Wilson was the only double-figure scorer for the USA, leading a balanced attack with nine different players scoring five points or more.
Fever guards Tiffany Mitchell and Kelsey Mitchell came off the bench to score three points and one point, respectively, for the U.S. Fever center Kayla Alexander contributed two points and five rebounds for Canada. It was the international debut for Alexander and both Mitchells as part of their respective senior national teams.
All 15 players on the USA roster entered the game, and 10 played double-digit minutes. But the comeback was led by the group of Wilson, Collier, Williams, Plum and Clarendon.
“The group that was out there gave us what we needed,” Staley said. “Did I think about subbing? Yes, I did think about subbing, but they were playing so well together that I figured I would just let them finish the game out. Some games are going to be like that, and then there are some games where you need to insert other players.”
The USA was trailing 62-58 with 5:28 left in the fourth quarter when it closed the game on a 16-4 run and outscored Canada by 14 points in the period. The USA made 80.6 percent of its free throws. Wilson hit nine of 10 from the line.
The USA looks to keep that rhythm when it faces Japan as part of its pre-World Cup domestic tour at 7 p.m. EDT on Sept. 10 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.