July 31, 2009
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Fueled by a second-half scoring outburst from Notre Dame incoming freshman guard and United States co-captain Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington), the United States U19 National Team knocked off France, 88-75, on Friday in quarterfinal action at the FIBA U19 World Championships inside the Bangkok Thai-Japan Youth Center in Bangkok, Thailand.
With the victory, the USA (6-1) advances to the semifinal round of the U19 World Championships for the fourth consecutive time, where it will take on Canada (4-3) at 6:30 a.m. ET (5:30 p.m. local). Canada reached the semifinals for the first time following a 50-49 upset win over previously-unbeaten Australia on Friday.
Diggins scored 14 of her team-high 16 points in the second half, including seven points in a critical third-quarter surge during which the United States pulled away from a 36-all halftime tie. The future Fighting Irish cager connected on 6-of-12 shots from the field, including 1-of-2 from three-point range, to share team-best scoring honors with her fellow co-captain, Nnemkadi Ogwumike. Kelsey Bone added 12 points and Shenise Johnson chipped in with 10 points for the Americans, who have reeled off six consecutive wins since an opening-day loss to Spain.
The United States shot an even 50 percent from the field (35-of-70) in the contest, while dominating the boards once again with a 44-26 rebounding edge. The aggressive USA defense also held the French side 34.6 percent shooting (28-of-81), while the Europeans did much of their damage from the three-point arc (12-of-33, .364).
Laurie Datchy led four double-digit scorers for France (3-4) with a game-high 17 points, while Medelome Medenou contributed 12 points. Medenou was France's leading scorer in a May 11 exhibition game against Notre Dame in Paris, scoring eight points in a 77-44 Fighting Irish victory.
"I thought we had our moments," said Carol Owens, USA and Northern Illinois University head coach (and an assistant coach at Notre Dame from 1996-2005). "We're still on our quest to play our best basketball. France is a team that is very aggressive. They shot the ball well, especially in the first half. They kind of took us off keel a little bit, but we bounced back. Skylar Diggins and Sam Prahalis got into foul trouble early. They're important to our team, so when we had them back in the third quarter, that was important in terms of our offensive efficiency."
France, which hit four three-pointers in the first quarter, took the lead four minutes into the contest and remained out in front for a 22-16 first quarter lead.
"France put on the defensive pressure," Diggins said. "They got up on us and really got out on defense, got some transition layups. It was pretty much like they were shooting in the ocean, they were making everything in the first half, banking shots in and just outplaying us. Finally, in the last couple of minutes in the second quarter, we were able to tie it up."
Prahalis and Diggins were forced to watch most of the second quarter after picking up two fouls each in the first three minutes of the period and France was able to remain in the lead. By the 3:42 mark in the second quarter, France owned its biggest advantage of the game, 34-26. Layshia Clarendon got the U.S. back on track with a driving bucket at 2:44 and went on to score six points in a 10-2 run that closed the half with the game even at 36-all.
France put up the first points in the second half, and at 8:33, the game was knotted for the final time at 40-40. Prahalis drove to the hoop at 8:15 and got both of her points from the stripe to put the U.S. ahead for good. That spurred an 8-0 run that ended with a pair of Johnson free throws and the U.S. was up 48-40 with 17:21 remaining in the contest.
In all, the United States outscored France 20-6 in a five-minute run that closed the first half and opened the second.
By the 2:15 mark in the third quarter the USA's lead expanded to 14 points, 63-49, and it seemed as the U.S. would run away with the quarterfinal game. However, a pair of offensive fouls and a third turnover by the USA over the period's final two minutes, helped France get back into contention, 63-59, at the end of the period.
France cut the gap again at the start of the final stanza to make it a two-point game, 63-61, with 9:27 to play. The U.S. again picked up its defensive intensity, Diggins took a charge and Johnson forced a pair of France turnovers, as the USA's offense took off on a 15-3 run to jump back to a double-digit lead, 78-64, with four minutes remaining. France never again threatened as the Americans won another victory to move to the semifinals.
"In the second half, Coach wanted us to pick up the defensive intensity, get out there and play together, make sure we communicate with each other," Diggins said. "That was a pretty big topic: communication. We also wanted to sure we were running our offense. Once we started doing that, we started getting buckets, we were getting our butts down on defense and getting out on transition and scoring some transition buckets."
Saturday's semifinal between the United States and Canada will be a rematch of a second-round Group F pool play game from Monday, a contest the Americans won 64-50 -- Diggins did not play in that game due to illness. Argentina (5-2) and Spain (7-0) will tangle in Saturday's other semifinal game, with the U19 World Championships gold medal game to be played Sunday at 7 a.m. ET (6 p.m. local). More information is available on the USA Basketball U19 National Team web page at www.usabasketball.com, and the official 2009 FIBA U19 World Championships web page at thailand2009.fiba.com.
NOTE: USA Basketball contributed to portions of this release.