SAN JUAN (Puerto Rico) – Meeting for the second time in the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup 2021, USA and Puerto Rico battled back and forth for the gold medal, with USA coming out on top after a close game to claim the title with a 74-59 win coming back from a halftime deficit to successfully defend their 2019 title.
In the first quarter, the usual suspects came to play as Jazmon Gwathmey and Jennifer O’Neill lead Puerto Rico to a lead over USA once again, the same way they did in group play, letting their opponent know that their first appearance in the AmeriCup final was not to be taken lightly.
Isalys Quinones, a beast on the boards for Puerto Rico, also contributed 7 points of her own through the first quarter of play as Puerto Rico started off strong against a strong USA squad.
Rhyne Howard, a leader for team USA throughout the tournament, also came up big for USA despite their slow start, getting into double digit scoring in the first minutes of the game and keeping her team in the game as Puerto Rico dominated the floor.
The second quarter was another back-and-forth battle, as both teams were missing shots that should have fallen in the second quarter, but Naz Hillmon’s efficiency on the boards allowed USA to keep Puerto Rico at bay and tie the game up at 34-34 in the second quarter, but Gwathmey came up with a big bucket for Puerto Rico to let the home team edge team USA 36-34 to end the second quarter.
Pamela Rosado came up big with 7 rebounds through two quarters for Puerto Rico, but Howard’s 15 points as well as Hillmon’s 10 rebounds allowed USA to close the gap and keep their gold medal hopes alive.
Elissa Cunane continued her strong play through two quarters with 6 points off the bench that allowed USA to come within 2 of Puerto Rico to close out the half as Puerto Rico lead 36-35.
Making the necessary second half adjustments as they have all tournament, USA came out blazing against Puerto Rico as Aliyah Boston proved once again why she is one of the best players in basketball, finding back-to-back baskets as well as playing hard defense to help her team get the lead in the third quarter.
Gwathmey continued to be one of the biggest forces for Puerto Rico as they stayed on USA’s heels in the game, but as Ashley Owusu had a huge impact off the bench and Veronica Burton efficiently pushed the ball down the floor. USA found themselves in a 9-point lead that forced Puerto Rico into timeouts and let USA regroup with their lead ahead by 8 in a 55-47 lead going into the third quarter.
USA ran away with the game in the fourth, as they have during the whole competition. Howard and Boston continued to hit shots, and though Puerto Rico’s O’Neill and Gwathmey responded, USA found themselves with an 11-point lead with just under 2 minutes to play in the game.
Team USA made a difference in the paint as they outrebounded their opponent 63-37, which was the difference as Puerto Rico’s offense was up to par with USA, but could not compare on the glass.
Though the lights went out in Roberto Clemente Coliseum and paused activity during the game, Aliyah Boston had already recorded a double-double in the match, with Hillmon not far behind with an 8-point, 12 rebound performance.
USA led by 15 with just over a minute to go, and the young USA squad battled many veteran teams and adversity to prove that the team indeed is the best in the Americas.
Boston finished with 17 points and 19 rebounds, while Howard led the scoring with 22 points and 5 assists. Puerto Rico had their best ever AmeriCup participation with a silver medal. O’Neill finished with 18 points and 5 rebounds while Gwathmey finished with 13 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists.
Though the young USA squad were not the same roster headed to the Tokyo Olympics, through coach Dawn Staley’s leadership defending their gold medal title was crucial and picking up the pace in the second half allowed them to secure the win.
Staley successfully defended her 2019 title and is undefeated as head coach of team USA at the AmeriCup, going 12-0 since 2019 in the tournament.