A worrisome first quarter put Japan up 30-16, as Team USA struggled to make shots while Japan’s Masami Honda rained down three pointers. Forward Erica McCall (Stanford) and center Mercedes Russell (Tennessee) led the Americans in a second quarter rally, cutting the lead to seven points before half time.
USF guard Courtney Williams couldn’t get her shots to fall until late in the third quarter, scoring only two points in the first 28 minutes of the game. In the final minutes of the third, she broke a 52-52 tie with a two point basket, and less than a minute later hit a three-pointer to put the U.S. up 57-54. She had shaken off her sluggish start and began to find her rhythm. Midway through the fourth, she put the U.S. ahead by stealing the ball and scoring on a fast break, and scored another two points 30 seconds later. But Japan would not go away, and the score was 77-77 at the end of regulation.
Williams didn’t score in the first five-minute overtime period, but she did grab three rebounds and got the ball in to Russell for an assist. Japan kept it tied 86-86 to send the game into double overtime. Then Everything clicked for the Americans. McCall made the first shot, then blocked a Japanese shot, and the ball got to Williams, who sank a jumper for two. Aerial Powers (Michigan State) missed a three, but Russell grabbed the rebound and Williams put the ball back up for two more points. In the final minute, down by six, Japan began fouling. McCall made four free throws and Williams made two, making the final score U.S. 102, Japan 98.
"I think we kind of had a chip on our shoulder," said Mercedes Russell, who had 25 points and 14 rebounds in the hard-fought win. "We had to make a gap, and we had to put the thing away."
"That was one of the craziest games I've seen in a while or been part of as a coach," said head coach Joe McKeown. "I want our players to be able to enjoy it and move forward. We'll get ready right away for the gold medal game. That's why we came here."
Williams finished the game with 17 points, ten rebounds, five assists and three steals. The U.S. will face an undefeated Canadian team in the finals on Monday evening. It's at 5:00 AM eastern time on ESPNU. A win will bring home America’s tenth World University Games gold medal for women’s basketball.