With a semi-finals spot on the line, it had been a back-and-forth game to this point, with the United States holding a slim five-point lead.
Then Kaleah Copper got fouled.This seemed to galvanize the American team that had looked uncharacteristically shaky before that point, and for the final 3:39 of the first half, Serbia would not score a single basket as the USA went on a 12-0 run.
The halftime break would offer no respite to the Serbians, and having finally found some momentum, the USA showed exactly why they’re the favorites to win gold, outscoring their opponents 38-22 in the second half.In total, USA outscored Serbia 50-22 after Copper went down, her injury a lightning rod for the team to take care of business.
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Copper was taken off the court after her fall, and was later helped off the court, a worrying sign for an American team that has relied on her energy and defensive presence off the bench so far in this tournament.
In what has been a fairly physical tournament, this game was no different, and USA forward Alyssa Thomas says she has enjoyed the challenge that this style of play has presented.
“For sure, it’s something that I like of course, something I’m used to playing overseas as well,” Thomas told reporters postgame.
“I think at this point you expect everybody to be pretty physical and just got to keep our composure and continue to play our game.
“I’m just bringing energy, just trying to play hard, we didn’t start the way we wanted to and I just tried to gain extra possessions, play hard and get stops on defense and just really jump start us.”
While Kelsey Plum lead USA with 17 points off the bench, Thomas claimed a dominant 13-point, 14-rebound double-double, adding in seven assists and three steals for good measure.
USA coach Cheryl Reeve was gushing with praise for Thomas after the game, saying that she was dominant in virtually every aspect of the game.
“She scored, rebound and she got the extra possessions on offence,” Reeve said.
“Defensively she’s hard to play against and she had a near triple-double and I think if we made a few more of those open shots, she has a triple-double pretty easily.
“She’s been such a part of our identity defensively. I can’t say enough about her value. I know it and playing against them, you know, in Connecticut – that’s a player.
“I’m just really excited that she wanted to be a party to USA basketball this go around and she’s given us everything she has and that’s providing us with a level of toughness.
“She has that passion and relentlessness that helps everyone else kind of feed off of her.”
Thomas also noted the loss of Copper for the Americans and highlighted the team’s mentality in the face of her injury.
“You don’t want to see anybody go down like that, of course, thoughts and prayers go out to her, she’s a phenomenal player, but if one goes down you’ve got to step up even more and play harder to fill that void.”
The USA’s mentality was shown late in the game when the team took a timeout to address some issues despite leading the game by 20 points.
“It was probably the second chance opportunities, I know they got three in one possession, we can’t allow those kinds of things to happen, especially when we’re playing switch defense, we gotta really focus on not allowing them to get rebounds,” Thomas added.
After claiming their 33-point win, the United States’ eyes now turn to the second quarter-final, as they’re set to face off against the winner of Canada v Puerto Rico in the semi-finals.
But after waiting longer than expected to get into gear, and facing possible injuries, USA is unlikely to be thrilled with how this quarter-final played out.