The USA Pan American Games team erased a 14-point second half deficit and Kentucky’s Linnae Harper made two free throws with 7.7 seconds left to secure a spot in Monday night’s gold medal game of the 2015 Pan American Games with a 65-64 win over Cuba at Ryerson Athletic Center in Toronto, Canada.
The young USA squad advances to play Canada, who made a statement Sunday with a 91-63 win over Brazil, at 8:45 p.m. EDT on July 20 (live on ESPNU). The Canadians are looking to win the first gold medal ever for the program with the Olympic qualifying not far away.
The USA, however, squeezed out a win in a game that Cuba controlled most of the way and quite honestly, seemed to be more excited about playing. Cuban players and coaches brought an emotion to the game that the USA team seemed to lack for much of the afternoon.
An uninspired group turned the ball over 21 times against Cuba’s pressure and lost the rebounding battle 45-43 for the game. Their only counter to such sloppy play was 12 steals on the night, including one from Harper when they needed it most during the final possession of the game.
The USA trailed by as many as 14 points in the third quarter, but battled back, thanks in part to their defensive pressure that forced seven Cuban turnovers in that period alone, to go up by four points, 61-57, in the fourth quarter after a 3-pointer from Harper with just 2:52 remaining in the game. However, Cuba responded with a 5-0 run and led 62-61 with 1:36 on the clock.
Alaina Coates (South Carolina), who finished with 10 points and 15 rebounds, scored an offensive put back at 47.2 seconds, but, again, Cuba had an answer with a steal and layup at 13.3 seconds to go ahead 64-63. On the USA’s final possession, Harper drove to the basket and was fouled, and she made both free throws to give the USA its 65-64 lead with 7.7 seconds left in the game. Cuba had one more opportunity, but as Cuba’s Oyanaisy Gelis attacked the rim, Harper stole the ball and secured the U.S. victory.
“First of all, Alaina’s offensive rebound was huge – gave us the one-point lead,” said USA head coach Lisa Bluder (Iowa). “Linnae was just terrific off the bench tonight. She gave us such a spark offensively and defensively. I can’t say enough good things about the way that Linnae played today.
“We went to a three-quarter-court press, and that kind of gave us the life,” Bluder said. “We were down 12 at that point, and that brought us back into the game. So, I was really proud of the way we executed that, because we haven’t had a whole lot of time to execute that. But, Tori (Shatori Walker-Kimbrough) and Linnae, especially, did a really good job on the front of that press.”
Harper finished with a game-high 16 points and four steals; Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (Maryland) had 15 points and four steals; Moriah Jefferson (Connecticut) had a team-high five turnovers, but countered that with 12 points, five assists and six rebounds; and Breanna Stewart (Connecticut) contributed 10 points and five rebounds.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to ESPN