Here are some postgame comments from members of the U.S. U-19 team and head coach Jennifer Rizzotti following tonight’s 70-64 win over France in the quarterfinals (courtesy of USA Basketball) …
The U.S. (6-1) will meet Brazil (6-1) in the medal semifinals Saturday at 9 p.m.
Jennifer Rizzotti (University of Hartford), USA head coach
On today’s game:
A: “We talked about this yesterday, that every team out here is very equal. Everybody wants to win really badly and it was going to take some individual plays and team defense to make sure we got a win. France gave us all they had. To see their disappointment after the game shows you how much they wanted to win and how hard they play for their country. I want my players to feel that kind of passion and I felt that in the fourth quarter tonight everything came together for us.
I thought they finally got in a rhythm. They looked like they were having fun out there. They were playing for each other, our bench was into the game and I haven’t seen that in the last two games. It was nice for them to break into that.’’
On the close competition overall at the tournament:
A: “We have to make sure we’re ready every game, we give it our best shot and we leave everything on the floor. Although France lost, they left everything out there. If we can play with that kind of desire and passion and we leave everything out there, I don’t think anyone can beat us. I’m not sure we’ve been able to find our rhythm on offense at times either, so we need to work through that.’’
Q: How were you able to come back from the 13-point deficit?
A: “We just had a better awareness of where (Valeriane Ayayi) was on the floor and limit her open looks. We went to a zone and forced outside shots. They made a lot of threes, but I felt they were attacking the basket early in the first half and we wanted to get them more stagnant and more outside shooting. I thought our zone worked well. We got some rebounds and we were able to run out of it.’’
More on the USA’s zone defense:
A: “They were taking a lot of threes. They were settling for outside jumpers. They weren’t attacking the basket and it kept our guys out of foul trouble. It allowed us to disrupt their flow because we couldn’t guard in the zone. We didn’t have a match-up for (Valeriane Ayayi), but then offensively we found a way to get the ball inside and really try to attack their post players.’’
Q: Did you feel like the defensive intensity was on a roller coaster tonight?
A: “It was, but we were content to give up threes. It wasn’t like we were trying to stop them from shooting, we were trying to stop them from getting to the basket. We wanted them to have to beat us from the outside and it worked. Even though they came back and tied it up, that was what got us that 10-point lead.’’
On Bria Hartley and Breanna Stewart:
A: “They both were great. Bria, other than the Canada game, has been poised and you can see she’s one of the two college kids on this team. Whether it’s hitting a big shot, getting us into offense or coming up with a big rebound, she’s so competitive. Breanna Stewart matches that competitiveness. Having those two guys playing well and out on the floor together really was effective for us.’’
On Breanna Stewart’s 10 points in the fourth quarter:
A: “I talked to her at halftime about forcing them to really guard her and to dictate the defense. I felt she was allowing their defense to dictate her offense. I said ‘you need to go at them. They’re going at you. You need to turn around and do the same thing to them. The buckets she got were just effort. It was ‘I want the ball in the paint.’ Or ‘I’m going to get an offensive rebound.’ Or ‘I’m going to run the floor harder. Then, defensively she was great back in the zone. She got a couple blocks for us and obviously she always rebounds the ball. She basically helps us in every way possible. That’s her role. We talked about what their roles were and we made it clear that we need her and Kaleena (Mosqueda-Lewis) and Bria (Hartley) to be scorers and they were that tonight in the fourth quarter.’’
Bria Hartley (UConn)
Q: What happened in the first quarter to allow France to get the lead?
A: “I don’t know. It didn’t seem like things were really going well for us. They were playing amazing. They got up to an early lead and I just knew that we had to bring everybody together and know that we could win this. We just had to be patient, come back slowly and we were able to do that.’’
Q: What did you talk about at halftime?
A: “We just talked about the fact that they basically gave it their best and we were still only down by five. We were shooting really slowly from the floor. If we just came out in the second half and play our game, takeover the game and play at our tempo, we’d be fine.’’
On the play of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart in the fourth quarter:
A: “I think they came out and were able to execute. We did a really good job today, better than any other day, of getting into our sets and getting the ball where we wanted it to go. They were able to score and get good shots off of that.’’
On the team’s depth and distributing minutes:
A: “I think we all come in and we all have the same goal. We have the mindset that we want to win. So, whoever is in the game, we go out there, we play hard. Whoever’s on the bench has energy and encourages whoever’s out there on the floor.’’
Q: What was your solution for (Valeriane Ayayi), in the second half?
A: “She started off great. We had to adjust. We came out, adjusted our defense and we were able to get a couple of stops. That helped us a lot.’’
Q: Were you able to learn anything from this game?
A: “Definitely. Games like this are always a learning experience. It definitely shows that we have a lot of pride in the way we were able to work through it and come back for the win.’’
Kaleena Mosqueda- Lewis (UConn)
Q: You were down by 13, but never lost your composure. How did you fight back into the game?
A: “Body language has been a big key for Coach these past couple games. She said it was the key to us winning and we have to feel like we’re winning the whole time. We have to feel like nothing’s going to bring us down. That’s what we tried to do today. We tried to keep our intensity up, keep the fire in us.’’
Q: This is the first time you could really hear your bench cheering on the team. Was that someone’s idea or did it just happen?
A: “It just happened today. Everybody was into the game tonight, whether they were on the court, off the court. Whether they were playing bad, not playing at all or doing great. That’s what we need every game. That’s what we need every night.’’
Q: What adjustment did you make in the fourth quarter to be able to come back?
A: “We just had to know where all the shooters were. We had to know we had to guard two people. You had to be willing to help out your teammates if they get lost or if they get stuck. Basically the whole time we had to remember we were a team: look for everybody to score, look for everybody to score on defense.’’
On the team’s play tonight:
A: “Tonight the chemistry was on. Everybody was clicking out there on the court. Coach was making great substitutions. Whoever was coming in was doing their job and playing their role.’’
Q: What does it say about the will to win of this team to come back like you did?
A: “I think it says about USA. It says a lot about all the players on this team. We’re willing to do whatever it takes to win the gold medal. After coming off that loss from Canada we realized that every team out here is a great team and we can’t have any let-ups. We had to figure all that out again tonight after the first half and get it together.’’
Breanna Stewart (Cicero North Syracuse High School)
On the USA’s second-half comeback:
A: “Our zone definitely helped us out a lot on the defensive end. Offensively, we were crashing the boards, getting rebounds and going back up with them.’’
France was trying for 3s, but you kept going inside:
A: “France was looking for the outside shot and we were looking for any shot we could get. Whether it was in the paint or behind the arc.’’
Q: Did you have to step outside more to guard Valeriane Ayayi?
A: “Yeah, I have to play outside on the perimeter a lot more because she can knock down that shot. I did a good job for the most part, but there’s still a lot you can learn.’’
On the day’s win:
A: “It was a good win. We got ourselves in a hole in the beginning and then we finally got ourselves out and got the win.’’
Q: Were you frustrated in the first quarter?
A: “It’s frustrating when your shots don’t fall, but we played through it and got the win.’’
On her fourth quarter:
A: “I was feeling good. The game was flowing to me. We were running the iso play for me and it all worked out.’’
On advancing to the semifinals:
A: “It feels great. We’re all excited and we can’t wait to play tomorrow.’’