- Chris Hansen, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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RODEZ, France -- For the first time during the FIBA U17 World Championships the American team came storming out of the gates. Ball movement and shots in the flow of the game lead to the U.S. team finding its rhythm early and often, and ultimately a 114-57 win over Canada.
"Mentally we broke down a little bit and they hit some tough shots," Canadian head coach Jacqueline Lavallee said.
The U.S. is a team that as soon as you make one mistake they are going to punish you for it. So we had to limit those mistakes and unfortunately we lost focus in that second half."
Team USA was in such a groove early they were running even off of made baskets. The lead stretched to as many as 22 in the first half, the biggest margin in the first 20 minutes of the tournament so far.
"It's always a challenge," Canadian forward Alexandria Kiss-Rusk said of playing the USA, "but every game's a challenge. I just didn't think we came out as strong as we'd like to today."
All teams will now take a day off before resuming the final two days of pool play, with the top four teams moving on from Rodez to the quarterfinals in Toulouse on July 23.
This game was hugely important as Team USA's perimeter players got going and provided the balance the offense will need to get past Australia in bracket play and perhaps Spain and China as well. In exhibition play the Aussies matched the Americans inside physicality and if that occurs again head coach Barb Nelson will need to look to her talented guard and wing group to relieve the pressure.
"Yeah, (there) was a lot of success on my shot. The past few games haven't been that great for me," Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. "Coach (Barbara Nelson) was just telling me I have to find my rhythm on defense and maybe start in a little closer so I tried to do that and it seemed to work. Our whole team scored a lot today. The posts were playing great, they were getting out and running and Jewell Loyd also had a great shot today."
Significantly, the U.S. was able to run early in the game, even off of made baskets. For the first time during the tournament they looked far more athletic at every position.
As anticipated, the Canadians relied heavily on the scoring of Nirra Fields, who tallied 17 points but the stellar American defense held her to just 5 for 17 shooting from the floor. The U.S. changed its starting lineup for the first time in the tournament, starting Morgan Tuck on the wing to give Fields a longer defender to shoot over.
Mosqueda-Lewis led all scorers with 21 points, which she delivered in just 18:39 minutes. Loyd finished with 19 points and collectively the U.S. shot 44 percent from the floor.
All things considered, this game came at a perfect time as the wing players were showing their frustration in the first two games, despite the wide margins of victory. Yes the U.S. team did get a little too liberal chucking up threes in the second half but far more important is the feeling of importance for all the players on the squad.
The team put together it's most complete game to date and is hoping to carry that momentum into the final two pool games against Turkey on Tuesday and Japan on Wednesday.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.