Stewart, debuting Thomas help US beat Belgium in WCup opener
SYDNEY (AP) — It’s been a whirlwind week for Alyssa Thomas.
She went from losing in the WNBA Finals on Sunday to flying 10,000 miles to Australia a day later to play for the United States in the World Cup. Thomas had 14 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in her debut for the Americans, who beat Belgium 87-72 in the tournament opener on Thursday.
After finding out she’d be on the U.S. roster, she never gave any thought to skipping the World Cup.
“Excited to be a part of this, been waiting a long time,” the 30-year-old Thomas said.
U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve was impressed by what Thomas accomplished in the short turnaround time.
“It’s what I expected Alyssa to do, as it’s just what she does. She’s a competitor and knows how to (play),” Reeve said. “WNBA players don’t get enough credit for how well that they transition from overseas play to WNBA play to national team play.”
Breanna Stewart scored 22 points and Jewell Loyd also scored 14 for the short-handed U.S. team, which was still missing Las Vegas Aces players A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum. They were on their way to Australia after celebrating the franchise’s first WNBA championship with a parade on Tuesday. The trio is expected to be in Sydney on Friday.
Thomas and her Connecticut Sun teammate Brionna Jones, who also arrived on Wednesday, were two of six players on the roster who hadn’t played for the U.S. in either the World Cup or Olympics.
This team is much different from the one that won a third straight gold in Spain in 2018. Sue Bird is retired and Diana Taurasi is out as well. Brittney Griner, who would have been on this team, is in a Russian jail after being convicted of drug possession last month in a politically charged case and sentenced to nine years in prison. The U.S. government is trying to secure her release.
These teams met in the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup, with the Americans using a big third quarter to pull away and win by 16.
The Americans jumped out to a quick 12-0 lead before Belgium settled down to get within one. The U.S. lengthened the lead again behind Stewart and Loyd and was up 48-39 at the half. The Americans went on a 12-4 run to start the third quarter and put the game away.
The U.S. did a stellar job defensively on Belgian Emma Meesseman. The Chicago Sky star led the Olympics in scoring last year, averaging 26.8 points. She had four against the U.S, which has now won 23 consecutive World Cup games since losing in the 2006 semifinals to Russia. The Americans are three wins short of matching their record 26-game run from 1998-2006.
Julie Vanloo scored 13 points to lead Belgium.
“Really proud of this young team,” Meesseman said. “Sometimes we lacked focus but a lot to be proud of and looking forward to the next few games.”
USA Basketball decided no one will wear Griner’s No. 15 in this tournament. The Americans have used numbers 4 to 15 for a long time. Brionna Jones, who would have been 15, wore No. 16.
Puerto Rico beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 82-58 for the country’s first World Cup win. France topped Australia 70-57, spoiling the return of Lauren Jackson. Canada beat Serbia 67-60; Japan routed Mali 89-56 and China blew past South Korea 107-44.
Thomas, who had a triple-double in each of the last two games in the WNBA Finals, fell just short of getting the first one at the World Cup since Erika Dobrovicova in 1994 for the Slovak Republic against Spain. Assists and rebounds weren’t kept before 1994.
The U.S. had 25 assists on 30 baskets. … The Americans forced 25 Belgium turnovers that led to 27 points. … Belgium hit 11 3-pointers to stay in the game.
Belgium: Faces South Korea on Friday.
U.S.: Plays Puerto Rico on Friday.
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By DOUG FEINBERG
AP Basketball Writer