The Czech team was the other real contender in Group B, where the U.S. was playing. Both teams had beaten China and Italy and both had already qualified for tournament play, which begins on Thursday. But yesterday's game showed that the Czechs were no match for the bigger, faster American players.
The game was tied 2-2 in the first minute, but center Mercedes Russell (Tennessee) pushed the lead to seven points before USF's Courtney Williams made three consecutive jumpers to give the U.S. a 15-2 lead. Team USA never looked back. Their size advantage in Russell (6'6", 170 pounds) allowed them to score points in the paint easily over the much shorter starting Czech forwards. At the end of first quarter, the Czechs put in 6'4" Nada Salacova, and 6'3" Klara Vojtikova, but they were stifled at every turn. The U.S. was up by 21 points in the last two minutes of the first quarter, but two quick Czech Republic three-pointers cut the lead to 15 before the buzzer.
Williams entered the game again halfway through the second quarter and scored two more points, helping the U.S. to a 49-32 half time lead. The third quarter saw Williams block a shot, make a shot and snag four rebounds as the Americans outscored the Czechs 30-14. While the U.S. rotated their starters out in the fourth quarter, the Czech Republic couldn't muster anything that resembled a rally, falling behind by as much as 42 points. The final score was 92-54 in Team USA's favor. Williams finished with 12 points, eight rebounds, four assists, a blocked shot and a steal.
"I thought we did a much better job than we'd been doing on offense," said U.S. Coach Joe McKeown. "We're starting to play off of each other, and that has helped. We're sharing the ball and taking better shots. When you can get out in transition and get layups, it's a big thing." Making plays in transition with pull up jumpers and layups is exactly what Williams does for USF, and her style seems to be a great fit for the U.S. team also.
The American team will play Hungary on Thursday in the first round of tournament play, which is a quarterfinal. Canada, Russia, Sweden, Taiwan, Australia and the Czech Republic are the other teams still in competition for medals.