Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Riding a huge fourth quarter scoring explosion as a team and a 27-point individual scoring effort by Matee Ajavon (Rutgers / Newark, N.J.), the USA Women’s Pan American Games Team (5-0) outscored host Brazil (4-1) 30-13 in the game’s final quarter to record a 79-66 win and capture the Pan American Games gold medal Tuesday evening in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The victory kept the U.S. team’s slate a perfect 5-0 and earned the Americans the gold medal, the United States’ first gold medal in Pan American Games competition since 1987.
Rising Tennessee senior Nicky Anosike pumped in 10 points on 5-of-10 field goals with seven rebounds. She added a team-high four assists while recording two blocks and a steal. Lady Vol teammate Alexis Hornbuckle, who tied with a team-high nine rebounds, including four on the offensive glass, added five points. She registered three assists and a team-high two steals.
Playing in front of a loud partisan Brazil crowd that was clad in yellow and green and numbering over 13,000, the 2007 squad did what three teams that came before it were unable to do - win the gold. Since claiming gold in 1987, the USA had earned silver once (2003) and bronze twice (1991 and 1999) (note-the women’s basketball competition was canceled for 1995 Pan American Games).
"This feels terrific. We came down here as the youngest team in the tournament, but they also came out here with the biggest hearts," remarked USA head coach Dawn Staley. "I thought we had a shot of winning it because they all bought into the USA Basketball system which is a no star system. Everybody played their roles to the fullest and that’s why we won. If it was any other way I think we could of come up short today.
"The committee put together a great team, full of players who are use to playing in this type of environment. In every single game here someone else has stepped up. Tonight it was Matee’s night. We made adjustments as a coaching staff to alleviate some of the defensive assignments she had so she could do a little bit more on the offensive end and I think that was a great strategy by our coaching staff. This is a wonderful feeling, it’s a tremendous feeling."
For the game’s first 30 minutes neither team was able to shake the other.
The U.S. trailed 19-18 after one quarter, and still lagged behind by a single point at intermission, trailing Brazil 34-33.
Credited with just three points in the first half, Ajavon came out firing in the third quarter and behind her seven points during a 12-1 USA start of the third quarter, the USA moved out ahead 44-40 with 5:40 left in the third quarter.
Brazil closed the third quarter with a 13-5 offensive spurt and with 10 minutes left to play in the gold medal contest, the U.S. contingent was looking at a scoreboard that read Brazil 53, USA 49.
But the U.S. again started a quarter strongly.
Behind five points from Angel McCoughtry (Louisville / Baltimore, Md.) and four more from Ajavon, the Americans regained the lead with a 12-1 scoring run that left the score 63-56 with 6:03 to play.
Brazil made one last run and when veteran star Janeth Arcain made a rushed deep two-point shot as the shot clock expired, Brazil was back within three, 65-62, with 3:27 left.
Tasha Humphrey (Gainesville, GA) reciprocated on the other end by draining a 3-pointer as the shot clock sounded, and after Ajavon got out on a fastbreak for a layup, the threat was over and the Americas were up 70-62 with 2:01 to go.
Brazil kept plugging away and closed within five, 70-65, but Ajavon made Brazil pay when her defender went for the steal but came away empty handed, Ajavon drove the lane for two to seal the win.
"Once we got a four point lead, even though they came back, I think it kind of gave us a little bit of momentum and then in the fourth quarter Matee completely took over the game," said Candice Wiggins, who collected her second gold medal of the summer and was a member of the USA U21 World Championship Team that won gold. "When we needed her she hit big shots and she was just hot today. Throughout this entire tournament everybody has stepped up on different days and today was Mat’s day and she really delivered."
Avajon’s 27 point effort, which came on 11-of-18 shooting from the field, ranks tied for fifth for single game scoring by a USA player in the Pan Ams. Her 11 made field goals ties the USA record for most made field goals in a game.
The U.S. offensive efforts was also aided by McCoughtry who added 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, while also contributing nine rebounds. Humphrey finished with 11 points, making 3-of-5 3-point tries, and Nicky Anoskie (Tennessee / Staten Island, N.Y.) tallied 10 points and seven rebounds.
Holding a 39-27 advantage on the glass, Alexis Hornbuckle (Tennessee / Charleston, W. Va.) also had nine boards.
Brazil, after shooting 14-of-27 in the first half, finished the gold medal contest making just 41.1 percent of its shots.
Jancinto Micaela led Brazil’s silver medal effort with 21 points.
Other members of the gold medal USA Pan American Games Team were: Jayne Appel (Stanford / Pleasant Hill, Calif.); Marissa Coleman (Maryland / Cheltenham, Md.); Emily Fox (Minnesota / Highlands Ranch, Colo.); Chardé Houston (Connecticut / San Diego, Calif.); Erlana Larkins (North Carolina / Riviera Beach, Fla.); and Mel Thomas (Connecticut / Cincinnati, Ohio).
Staley was assisted by Kathy Delaney-Smith of Harvard University (Mass.) and Bill Gibbons of College of the Holy Cross (Mass.).
In Tuesday’s bronze medal game, Cuba (3-2) upended Canada (2-3) 62-49.
Started in 1951 for men and 1955 for women, the Pan American Games are held every four years in the year prior to the Olympics and are open only to countries from FIBA Americas. The USA women have won seven of 13 gold medals and rolled up a 72-12 record.