From the onset of the game, Team USA’s offensive sets proved to be effective against Algeria, a team that qualified from the developing African zone. With a 14-0 lead five minutes into the first quarter, Head Coach Trooper Johnson put in his bench to get the young players some meaningful playing time in their first Paralympics.
“We knew we would have opportunities to run different line ups to get them time and get over any anxiety of playing in these big moments. This way they can make mistakes, so we can focus on making corrections and learning,” said Coach Johnson on playing his bench.
Bailey Moody and Zoe Voris wasted no time getting into the offense and scoring column. However, the younger lineup as a whole took some time before they established a rhythm.
Once they found their rhythm, they were unstoppable. The U.S. scored 14 points in the second quarter, with Ali Ibañez closing the half with the final two buckets.
Ibanez, a University of Illinois student-athlete, logged meaningful minutes.
“It (gave) me an opportunity to showcase what I’m able to do to the coaches a bit better and competitively. It was pretty great working with the other rookies,” said Ibañez.
Another first-time Paralympian also performed well. Ixhelt “Itzzi” Gonzalez played just under 30 minutes and lead the team in scoring (14 points) and snatched nine rebounds.
“This was a good momentum builder for me. Doing this at the Paralympics is a great confidence builder,” said Gonzalez. “I only got those buckets because my teammates worked for me, like I work for them.”
The team cruised comfortably through the second half and ended the game with all 12 athletes having points on the board. By the time the team got to the media area, thoughts had begun to shift to USA’s rival to the north, Canada.
“We know that Canada is going to come out and put pressure on us. We’ve been preparing our team to work through that pressure, and they’ve gotten a lot better,” said Coach Johnson.
The USA and Canada programs are quite familiar with each other, based on the proximity to one another and the number of competitions they have to prepare each year for major competitions. The last time they faced each other, it was a thriller that came down to the wire in the Championship of the 2019 Lima Para Pan American Games.
Ali Ibañez shared her thoughts on the game against Canada.
“Communication is key, making sure we’re all on the same page, and seeing the same reads. Listening to the game plan and following through with it,” she said.
The USA Women will tip-off against Canada on Tuesday, August 31st at 12:30PM Japan Standard Time, which converts to Monday, August 30th at 9:30PM U.S. Mountain Time.
*Photo credit: Wheelchair Sports Federation