The United States Women’s National Team is golden — again.
Team USA has won the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup in Sydney, defeating China 83-61 to win its fourth consecutive gold medal in the competition. A’ja Wilson led the United States in scoring with 19 points, followed by Kelsey Plum with 17 and Jewell Loyd with 11. Li Yueru led China in both scoring (19) and rebounding (12).
The victory marked the beginning of a new era for Team USA, which, despite entering the World Cup as clear favorites, had a few more questions to answer than in past years. The phasing out of several of the team’s stalwarts meant that the United States would need to find a new source of on-court leadership and restructure its hierarchy on the fly.
Any concerns about the team’s chemistry were quickly put to rest, however, as the United States went 5-0 in the competition’s group play phase. Team USA outscored its opponents by an average of 46.2 points per game in the games, highlighted by a 121-59 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina and a record-setting 145-69 win over Korea. Head coach Cheryl Reeve had identified pace of play and defense as two areas the United States needed to excel in, and her team responded, leading the competition in steals per game (11.8) and holding its opponents to an average of 61 points.
From there, it was onto the playoff bracket, where the United States continued its strong play, winning comfortably against Serbia (88-55) and Canada (83-43) in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, using largely the same formula that was so successful during the group phase; offensively gifted players Wilson, Plum and Breanna Stewart regularly ranked among the team leaders in scoring, while stifling perimeter defense from Loyd, Ariel Atkins, Alyssa Thomas, Kahleah Copper and Chelsea Gray held opponents down and created countless easy scoring opportunities in transition.
By the time Team USA was playing for the gold, it had become a well-oiled machine. While the Chinese National Team, who was playing without leading perimeter scorer Li Meng, matched the United States’ physicality early and trailed by just 10 points at halftime, Team USA’s star power proved to be too much in the end. The United States outscored China 40-28 in the second half of a game that, by the time the final buzzer sounded, seemed to have just as inevitable of a result as the FIBA World Cup championships in 2010, 2014 and 2018 — perhaps even more so.
Wilson leads next wave of top talent for Team USA
While the goal for the United States remained the same for 2022’s World Cup as for any other international competition — win a gold medal — the tournament served as a test of sorts for a new-look Team USA, which arrived in Sydney without much of the core that had led it to previous world-class results.
Sue Bird, Sylvia Fowles, Diana Taurasi and Tina Charles, in particular, all needed to be replaced on the roster, and with Taurasi the only one of the group who had not officially called it a career with Team USA, their respective replacements would be expected to lead the United States not only to victory in 2022, but in the future as well. The highly fluid nature of Team USA’s training camps and international competition preparation added to the urgency; the sooner its next wave of leadership could be established, the better.
Consider that mission accomplished, too. Wilson, fresh off a WNBA season in which she won Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year honors and a championship with the Las Vegas Aces, led Team USA in the 2022 World Cup in both scoring (17.2 points) and rebounding (7.5 rebounds) as its starting center and was named TISSOT Most Valuable Player. Not far behind was Stewart (12.8 points and 6.6 rebounds); the tandem produced as many highlights during the tournament as one would expect.
Perhaps more important for the United States, however, was the performance of the rest of its roster. It had long been assumed that Wilson and Stewart would eventually become the program’s go-to players; what Team USA needed in 2022 were a few more big names to flesh out the rest of its identity and depth and pencil themselves in for another gold medal run in the 2024 Paris Olympics.
In this respect, the latest iteration of Team USA is full of success stories. Gray, Plum and Loyd all had moments of brilliance as the team’s lead playmakers, with Loyd in particular taking on more of a ball handling role than she has on the WNBA’s Seattle Storm. Thomas, who led the team in steals (2.4) and ranked second in rebounds (seven), was named the competition’s Best Defensive Player. Copper gave Team USA unmatched athleticism on the perimeter, while Austin and Brionna Jones played valuable minutes behind Wilson, Stewart and Thomas in the frontcourt.
There’s still much to be decided before the Paris Olympics, to be sure, and there’s a good chance that Team USA’s metamorphosis is not yet complete, with young players such as Rhyne Howard, Aliyah Boston and NaLyssa Smith expected to compete for spots on 2024’s roster. For now, though, the United States’ success in the 2022 World Cup proves that, despite a few noticeable changes, it remains the women’s basketball powerhouse that the rest of the world is still trying to catch up with.