SYDNEY — A fair amount of uncertainty surrounded USA Basketball as they entered a new chapter of the post-Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi era.
But in front of a crowd of 15,895 fans at the Sydney SuperDome — most of whom were enthusiastically supporting Team China — the new-look Team USA successfully enhanced the legacy that was built by those who came before them by winning a fourth consecutive World Cup gold and 11th overall behind a 83-61 victory over China in the final.
Just five players from the Tokyo Olympic team that won a seventh-consecutive gold suited up in Sydney for the red, white and blue. No Bird, Taurasi, Sylvia Fowles, Tina Charles or Brittney Griner. Instead, the team that took the floor featured just one 30-year-old and six newcomers to the senior national team at this level of competition, after the squad had been defined for years by its experience and elder-statesmanship. Even the head coach, Cheryl Reeve, who has won four titles with the Minnesota Lynx, freshly assumed the helm of one of the greatest dynasties sports have known.
The USA has dropped just one game in a major international competition (World Cup or Olympic play) since 1994: the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup against Russia.
Silver-medalist China made its first World Cup final appearance since 1994, also the last time it won a medal at a major international competition. Host nation Australia took home the bronze behind a 95-65 win over Canada in which former WNBA MVP and champion Lauren Jackson, who unretired from the sport and is playing at 41, dropped 30 points in her final game for the Opals.
Fresh of winning the WNBA title not even two weeks ago, Team USA’s Las Vegas Aces trio Chelsea Gray (the 2022 Finals MVP), A’ja Wilson (the 2022 WNBA MVP) and Kelsey Plum (a first-time All-Star and all-WNBA selection) added to their trophy case following a whirlwind stretch in which they linked up with the U.S. team well after it started preparations for the event — in fact, after the tournament itself was underway.
Amid the USA’s somewhat slow start, the trio was sensational in the Final, combining for 46 of the USA’s 83 points. Wilson had 16 points in 16:35 in the first half to carry Team USA. After a five-point game to end the first quarter and a 10-point game at the half, the USA broke it open with a 25-14 edge in the third to give them a comfortable lead going into the fourth.
Jewell Loyd was the other USA member to finish with 11 points.
In their first tournament as leaders of the team, WNBA MVPs Breanna Stewart and Wilson successfully carried the mantle left by them by the likes of Bird, Taurasi and Fowles. But the newcomers made their impact felt immediately, too, and no one as much as Alyssa Thomas, with teammates deeming her their “glue” and the “MVP of this tournament” prior to the championship.
China was without Li Meng, their top scorer from the team’s first meeting of the tournament in group play, a 14-point USA win, due to an illness. The USA’s Kahleah Copper was sidelined for the second straight game after injuring her hip in the quarterfinal. Thomas went down with an upper-body injury in the second half but returned to the game after briefly being attended to in the locker room. Wu Tongtong also had to be carried off the floor in the fourth quarter after suffering an apparent knee injury.
Wilson won World Cup MVP — yet another accolade after taking home her second WNBA MVP award, first defensive player of the year honor, and first WNBA title this season — and was joined on the All-Star Five: by Bridget Carleton (Canada), Han Xu (China), Stewart (USA) and Steph Talbot (Australia).