USA too much for Turkey
RODEZ, France -- The message all week long for the USA Basketball U17 national team has been one of measuring itself against its own criteria, not the opposition. For the second game in a row the American team came out fast, allowing just four points in the first quarter to Turkey, leading to an 84-55 victory.
But it was far from the perfect 40 minutes, as the team showed some mental fatigue fighting through the Turkish screens in the second quarter and, in all, giving up 33 shots from behind the arc. The Turkish team used the 3-ball to cut a 24-point lead late in the third quarter down to 16 at the 8:52 mark of the fourth quarter.
The breakdown was defending screens as the perimeter players stopped communicating leading to misreads, half-switches and most of all wide open looks for Turkey who shook off a 0-10 start from three to go 10-of-21 the rest of the way.
This strategy is the one every team is going to deploy against the Americans, with the exception of maybe Australia who has a strong interior team.
"After the first period we passed the ball really (well) and we found the 3-point shot," Turkey head coach Hasan Firat Okul said. "Of course in the paint we lost it because of the physical things. (They were) physically better than us today so we lost it in the paint but our 3-point shot wasn't so bad."
The tone of the press conference after the game was one of some disappointment as head coach Barb Nelson attributed the defensive lapses to the mental fatigue of playing four games in five days.
"We started off very good," Morgan Tuck, who scored 11 points to tie Jewell Loyd for the team high, said. "Defensive intensity was good so the offense was better. And I think as the game went on we, kind of, weren't as focused. I guess we didn't take it as serious as we should have. And then I think we had spurts where we played hard but we were giving up a lot of threes and just not communicating.
Turnovers were also an issue for Team USA. For the first time in the tournament, USA turned the ball over more times than its opponent (22-20). That's not all on the USA; Turkey is a feisty and highly competitive group.
"When a team is switching defenses, whether it's man or zone our guards have to recognize that and get us into something so that five players are on the same page," Nelson said. "I felt like when we took Ariel Massengale off the floor we struggled to do that. We struggled to communicate and get five players on the same page."
The team utilizes Jewell Loyd, a natural shooting guard and Jordan Adams, who was starting on the wing earlier in the tournament, as their backup point guards, perhaps exposing a lack of roster depth at the position, though both are more than capable of getting it done at the point and have done so in spurts. Adams was the starting point guard for the No. 1 ranked team in the country this past season, Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif.
"Normally we are an inside-out team and today it looks like we tried to go outside-in instead," Nelson added, "and I think we have to be more focused on where are strength is and where we have an advantage."
On the positive side, the team started out strong, something it failed to do in its first two games against France and Russia. The team is now poised to finish first in the Rodez pool.
Every player on the team took at least three shots and scored at least four points. The question may loom as bracket play inches closer, if the rotation will shorten and if specific players and strengths will be utilized with more focus or if the even use of all 12 players will continue.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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