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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

They’re Golden: U.S. Women Reclaim World Basketball Championship with 89-68 Victory over Czech Hosts

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Photo Caption: U.S. players are cannonaded with gold confetti after receiving their gold medals at the 2010 FIBA World Basketball Championships for Women on Sunday, October 3, in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, with an 89-69 victory over the Czechs. Maya Moore, second from left, the only player on Team USA who is still a collegian, tries to catch some of the shimmering stuff in her uniform jacket.

Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

By Lee Michaelson

You kind of had to ask yourself, “Who won?”

Okay, there was the scoreboard, if you could make it out behind the sea of Czech flags, clearly proclaiming, “USA 89, Czech Republic 69.”

But you really couldn’t tell it on the court.

Sure, the Americans were happy, especially the three players—Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi—who still carry the bitter memory of the U.S. loss to Russia in the semifinals of the last World Championships, 2006, in Brazil. But careful to give no occasion for offense by overdoing their public celebration of the victory, they quietly hugged one another, congratulated their opponents, and later stepped to the medal podium to receive their gold medals and the FIBA Championship trophy with great dignity and poise.

But to look at the Czech team, giddy with excitement, practically doing backflips over their first-ever Worlds silver medal, you would have thought they’d won it all. (For that matter, the Spaniards seem pretty ecstatic about their bronze—also a first.)

“The reason, I think, is simple,” said Czech captain Hana Horakova. “Before this tournament, nobody would think that our team could press into the four best world teams, not speaking about winning a world championship medal. This is a great success for us. It is a celebration that is very much deserved and it definitely will go on tonight.”

“I’ve won many things in my career, but I never expected to win this,” said Spanish captain Amaya Valdemoro, who wrapped herself and several of her teammates in a Spanish flag passed down from the stands by one of the spectators and paraded around the stadium. “This is big for Spanish basketball and for the generation that are coming into the national team.”

Then came the announcement of the MVP and tournament All-Star team. From the team that had not just beaten, but dominated, every opponent it took on over the past 10 days, only one player, Taurasi, was selected for the All-Tournament team.

And when fiesty Czech point guard Horakova stepped forward to accept the hardware as MVP of the tournament, one had to wonder just how the (overwhelmingly European) media panel given ballots defined “Most Valuable.”

Photo Caption: Czechs joyfully celebrate their first-ever World Championships silver medal. The excitement was more than understandable, especially with the national team playing on its home court, once again before the president of the country. Still, said one American player, “We were talking about it—if we’d won second, we would have been crying in the locker room. There’s just so much pressure and expectation to win.”
Photo Credit: Tara Polen

“I have to say that all this tournament was like a dream for me and for my team, and everything was just great, just perfect,” said Horakova afterward. Thanking the fans and her teammates for their support, she added, “And all this helped to me personally for getting the tournament MVP award. ... I share all of these awards with my teammates because they helped me get them.”

You couldn’t help but be happy for Horakova, who not only is a terrific athlete, but also seems like a perfectly charming individual. She may well have been the most valuable player to her team, inspiring them to rise above even their own expectations coming into the tournament (they had hoped simply to make it to the quarterfinals) and achieve a higher level of play.

Photo Caption: Czech team captain and World Championships MVP Hana Horakova sprays down her teammates with a magnum of champagne, supplied by officials to celebrate their win, in front of a crowd of Czech fans.
Photo Credit: Tara Polen

But Horakova was not her team’s leading scorer (that distinction belongs to Eva Viteckova who outscored her teammate by more than four points per game over the course of the tournament), nor its best rebounder (that honor goes to the Seattle Storm’s Jana Vesela). She does lead her team in assists (nearly four per game for the tournament) and steals (nearly three per game), but also in turnovers (more than 2.5 per game). Most importantly, Horakova achieved her stats playing more than 30 minutes per game.

Photo Caption: Czech captain Hana Horakova hoists the FIBA 2010 Women’s World Championships MVP Trophy before a packed arena of her countrymen. Good athlete? Definitely. Strong motivator? Most likely. Nice person? Seems like it. Most Valuable Player to anyone other than the Czech National Team, which came in second with a 6-3 record? Not a chance.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

Joining Horakova and Taurasi on the All-Tournament team were the Czech Republic’s Viteckova (16.4 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game in nearly 32 minutes per game), Belarus’s Yelena Leuchanka (14.8 points per game, 8.8 rebounds per game in nearly 27 minutes per game) and Spain’s Sancho Lyttle (18.3 points per game, 11.5 rebounds per game in 28 minutes per game), even though Lyttle did not play in Spain’s semifinal loss to the U.S., nor for much of her team’s quarterfinal win over France.

None of these comments is intended to take an iota away from the conspicuous accomplishments of any of these players. But can’t we get a little love for the team that trounced every opponent it met on the way to winning the whole enchilada? Since when is a team so talented, one through 12, that its players no longer deserve recognition for their achievements? So the U.S. won again by 40 points? Yawn.

Not a single American is on the leaderboard of top 10s in points per game or rebounds per game, but then the average number of minutes per game played by those on those lists was 31.4 in the case of scoring, with some playing as many as 36.9 minutes per game, and 27.9 in the case of rebounding with some playing as many as 36.9. Sue Bird barely nosed her way in as No. 10 overall in assists per game (2.9 in 22.4 minutes per game, still substantially less playing time than most of her top-10 counterparts.)

It is to USA Basketball’s credit that they share the playing time relatively evenly among their talented roster. But it’s easy enough to calculate statistical averages of all players per 40 minutes played so as not to penalize great players for being surrounded by other great players. (In fact, FIBA even does just that for the math-challenged among us, though curiously in some categories, such as rebounding, but not in others, such as scoring.)

If you bother even to glance at the stats that FIBA already has conveniently laid out for you, you quickly find out, for example, that Jayne Appel was among the top five rebounders in the tournament with 14.9 per 40 minutes, and Candice Dupree and Sylvia Fowles both made the top 10 in rebounds per 40 minutes with 14.5 and 12.5 respectively. Not one of them averaged more than 16.4 minutes per game, however, with Appel coming in at a mere 7.4 minutes per game. (No Czech player even makes the list, and of those named to the tournament’s All-Star team, only Sancho Lyttle, with 16.5 rebounds per 40 minutes, did make it.)

Photo Caption: For Your Consideration—Alternate Candiate for All-Tournament Team. Candace Dupree was one of only a handful of players to rank among the top 10 in both scoring and rebounding per 40 minutes played. She also outscored and outrebounded Leuchanka, who made the All-Tournament team, in Team USA’s head-to-head with Belarus (as did pretty much every player on the U.S. squad).
Photo Credit: Tara Polen

Figuring out points per 40 minutes is a tad more difficult, in that FIBA hasn’t already done the arithmetic, but they made it pretty easy by positioning minutes per game in a column adjacent to points per game. And, come on, folks! With Team USA literally tearing up the tournament, with four 100-plus-point games (the only 100-pointers in the tournament), you have to figure someone on the American squad has been doing a little scoring, don’t you?

In the interest of time, we computed the per-40 minute scoring of the top American players as compared to those listed in FIBA’s top 10 based on raw points per game. It gives you quite a different perspective:

1.Sancho LyttleSpain26.419.136.9
2.Tina CharlesUSA25.810.716.6
3.Sylvia FowlesUSA25.68.913.9
4.Angel McCoughtryUSA24.011.318.8
5.Diana TaurasiUSA23.212.020.7
6.Erika De SouzaBrazil22.916.628.9
7.Candice DupreeUSA22.29.216.6
8.Yelena LeuchankaBelarus22.014.826.9
9.Evanthia MaltsiGreece21.417.933.5
10.Amaya ValdemoroSpain<

Originally published Sun, October 03, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.