Commentary

Flying In France

Updated: July 16, 2010, 8:40 PM ET
By Chris Hansen | HoopGurlz

Breanna StewartChris Hansen/ESPN.comBreanna Stewart was the rock for Team USA on both sides of the ball against France.

RODEZ, France -- They play all four quarters in basketball for a reason. During the first half the French team, ranked No. 3 in the FIBA world rankings, looked poised to take the top-ranked Americans to the wire, trailing by just three points at the half. But Team USA came out with intensity and a physicality that wore down the French team, leading to a 25-8 third quarter and ultimately a 70-45 victory.

Friday's win was the first of five pool-play games for the USA Basketball U17 National Team as it competes for the FIBA World Championship.

The difference between the two teams was perhaps depth but the Americans also stuck to their game plan and continued to pound the ball inside, even after early turnovers made it look as though post entries were going to be difficult.

"I think the first half, we can play with our (starting) five on the court. The problem is the USA always plays on the same level, all the games. At the end of the games we don't," French National Team head coach Arnaud Guppillotte said. "The USA doesn't play faster but they play always at the same level and us we play slower. It's difficult to play against this team because during all the games, 40 minutes, it's the same in the pace, the ball and the shots and the drives and offensive rebounds in the paint and in one moment in the second half we didn't arrive, we (weren't) able to keep the ball for our offense and we give the ball (up) because we are a little bit tired and USA is the same level."

Team USA found the balance and patience in their offense, which allowed their physical players to go to work. Breanna Stewart led all scorers with 13 points and she also contributed seven rebounds and five blocks.

[+] EnlargeBetnijah Laney
Chris Hansen/ESPN.com Betnijah Laney made timely plays against France in the FIBA opener.

"We were so hyped up for this game, we might have been a little too much at the beginning," Stewart said of the tightness in the offense in the first half. "But then we calmed down and things started going our way for the most part."

In the first half, whether it was point guad Olivia Epoupa on the drive or Margaux Galliou with the 3-pointer, the French had an answer to every USA run. But the sold-out arena of primarily France supporters could keep the team's energy up for only 20 minutes.

"I am very happy to play in this game but we made a lot of mistakes," said Galliou, the team's leading scorer with nine points, "and for sure there are many games to come and we will stick to the plan and come back tomorrow and the day after to try and win games."

As for Team USA, with a balanced attack and contributions across the board, the team seems poised for the next big obstacle -- Russia.

"It was a very exciting game for us," USA head coach Barbara Nelson said. "We have never played or I have never coached a game with this many people cheering and in to the game and caring about the outcome of the game. It was very exciting to be a part of that and I'm just pleased we were able to come out victorious."

The atmosphere seemed like a miniature version of the World Cup with all sorts of buzzers, air horns and shenanigans in the stands.

Five players scored in double figures for the red, white and blue -- Stewart's 13 plus Elizabeth Williams' 12 and 10 each from Betnijah Laney, Ariel Massengale, and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.

USA never panicked, instead a different player stepped up in each moment and after the opening few buckets they never trailed. Laney got the team going offensively during the slow start; Mosqueda-Lewis hit a pair of threes in big moments and also made a beautiful skip pass to Mater Dei High School teammate Jordan Adams who drained a 17-footer.

The key for Team USA heading into the match with Russia will be the interior players setting the tone as the opposition, much like the French, has a starting five with comparable size.

[+] EnlargeKsenia Tikhonenko Russia
Chris Hansen/ESPN.com Ksenia Tikhonenko and the Russians await Team USA on Saturday.

No. 2 Russia 92, No. 14 Japan 68 -- The combination of length and shooting was too much for the quick and feisty Japanese team to handle. The Russians stormed out to an early double-digit lead only to see Japan cut it to seven early in the third quarter. Team Russia answered the Japanese run to open the game up. Ksenia Tikhonenko, a 6-4 post from Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, led the way with 22 points and 16 rebounds.

No. 12 Canada 82, No. 30 Turkey 73 -- Nirra Fields was a pain for Turkey as her 25-point performance was too much to overcome. It didn't stop the Turks from trying as they bombed away from outside, cutting what was as much as a 20-point lead to single digits. Canada owned the paint, outscoring Turkey 46-22 in the lane. Turkey let 29 3-pointers fly, connecting on eight. Ay se Cora led Turkey with 16 points and shot 5 of 10 from long range.

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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 chris.hansen@espn3.com.