Despite respectable challenges from Senegal, China and Latvia, the United States went 3-0 in pool play in the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup. Los Angeles Sparks forward and 2016 MVP Nneka Ogwumike was a big reason why.
In the team’s first matchup against Senegal, an 87-67 win, Ogwumike tied a USA Basketball (USAB) record going 6-for-6 from the field to score 16 points to go along with four rebounds in 21 minutes of play. Ogwumike joined Lisa Leslie and Natalie Williams as the third player in USAB history to shoot a perfect 6-for-6 from the field.
Ogwumike played just 5:05 in the first half and scored 12 of her 16 points over 15:34 in the second half. Dawn Staley, USA and University of South Carolina coach, said she felt like the team needed her energy on the floor during the second half.
“I don’t like to play players for an entire quarter,” Staley said, “but she was doing some great things on both sides of the ball that I just felt like we couldn’t lose the energy that she was providing for us that entire third quarter.
Ogwumike is no stranger to directing traffic on defense, just this season she was named to the WNBA All-Defensive second team and is now helping Staley as a coach on the floor.
“Then we had to stick her in at the end, just to kind of control what (Senegal) was doing to us from an offensive standpoint,” Staley said.
In the second game against China, Ogwumike scored six points on 3-for-6 shooting to help the United States defeat upset-minded China, 100-88. It was an impressive offensive performance from both teams and Ogwumike and her teammates acknowledged the need to lock-in defensively moving forward.
“They taught us a major lesson today,” Ogwumike said following the win. “We need to do better on our defense, especially one-on-one.”
The team had the day off Monday and wrapped up pool play on Tuesday with a 102-76 victory against Latvia. Ogwumike contributed 10 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes of action.
The team will play in the quarterfinals Friday against Nigeria. With a win, the United States will advance to the semifinals on Saturday with the championship game on Sunday, Sept. 30.
Ogwumike knows it won’t be easy, with talent-laden teams like Canada and Australia looming on the other side of the bracket.
“I think everyone is going to fight,” Ogwumike said. “It’s never easy winning the World Cup.”