Stewart Scores 23 To Lead U.S. Past Australia in U-19 Semifinals

UConn sophomore Breanna Stewart had game-highs of 23 points (3-of-5 3-pointers) and eight rebounds and also had two blocks in 30 minutes today to lead the U.S. to a 77-54 victory over Australia in the semifinals of the FIBA U-19 World Championship in Klaipeda, Lithuania.

The U.S. (8-0) will meet France (7-1) in the final Sunday in search of its fifth straight gold medal –
sixth overall – in the event (1:15 p.m.; ESPN3). France, who defeated Spain 62-58 today, has advanced to the final for the first time.

The U.S. earned a 69-63 win over France in the second round Wednesday.

Stewart scored 14 points during a key 21-0 run to end the first half. The U.S. outscored Australia 27-6 in the second quarter to open a 38-20 lead at halftime.

Fellow UConn sophomore Morgan Tuck added nine points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes. Moriah Jefferson had two points, five rebounds and four assists in 27 minutes.

UConn Class of 2014 target A’ja Wilson finished with four points in eight minutes.

Here are postgame comments from Jefferson, Stewart and Tuck (courtesy of USA Basketball) …

On the start of tonight’s game …
A: “We weren’t pushing the ball well. We were playing their game by slowing it down and we weren’t going into our offense right. Once we got our tempo up and started pushing the ball, we started getting shot after shot.’’

On the play of Breanna Stewart …
A: “It’s a combination of everything. She was moving really well off the ball. We were setting good screens and our job as point guards is to get her the ball when she’s hot, so that’s who we were looking to feed.’’

Q: How important was it to go into halftime with such a big lead?
A: “It was great. It gave us a lot of confidence, not having to go into the third quarter where it’s a close game, where you really have to bust it open. Instead we can just play and try to gain a little more of a lead.’’

Q: What was the game plan tonight against Australia?
A: “We knew that they were a really good team, a good rebounding team, a good shooting team, and we wanted to really push it in transition and try to play our tempo and make the pace faster the entire game.’’

On the USA’s 21-0 run to end the first half …
A: “My teammates did a really good job of getting me open. At that time I wanted to try and get us going as a team. Obviously any player could have done it on a team. I just made shots. People seemed to follow and it seemed to get us a pretty big lead.’’

Q: Do you think the fact that you’re the most experienced veteran on this team helped you tonight?
A: “Yes. I think definitely being a veteran, having USA Basketball experience like this helps, especially once we get to the medal rounds. I just need to help use my previous experiences to help the new people on this team.’’

Q: Was the team a little nervous to start the game?
A: “Yeah, I think both teams were a little excited. It’s the semifinal game. What else can you expect? We were expecting a good game and I think we were both excited to get going.’’

On playing France for the gold medal …
A: “I was hoping to be able to play France again, just because when we played them the first time it wasn’t our best game at all. Hopefully we can show them how we really play basketball.’’

On the play of Breanna Stewart …
A: “It was a mixture of things. The guards did a good job of getting it to her when she was open. I think she did a good job of moving without the ball.’’

Q: How important is it that this team has veteran leadership like you, Alexis Jones and Breanna Stewart, who have won a U-19 World Championship?
A: “It’s important just because three of us have been in this same situation before. Now, we’re just trying to make sure everyone’s ready for it. I think the vets have done a great job of getting everyone ready.’’

Q: What was coach telling you in the time outs that Australia called during your 21-0 run?
A: “Just to keep up our defense. That’s what really got them out of it; we were disrupting their offense. We weren’t letting them score and we were rebounding really well. When their shots weren’t falling and they couldn’t get anything, they laxed a little bit on defense and we took advantage of it.’’

Q: Are you looking forward to playing France tomorrow night for the gold medal?
A: “Yes. We’re very excited to try and redeem ourselves a little bit.’’