Photo courtesy: Joe Kusumoto, U.S. Paralympics
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – It started as a gritty Paralympic Games women’s semifinal matchup between the United States and Great Britain in the first half as the teams had nine ties and the crowd witnessed five lead changes. The second half belonged to the United States as they pulled away from the Brits, 89-78, for a return to the gold-medal game on Friday, September 16 in the Rio Olympic Arena at 4:30 p.m. Eastern.
Team USA and Great Britain opened with a back and forth first quarter. Team GB started an 8-2 run at the 6:28 mark of the first, then USA returned with a 12-4 run from the 4:29 mark to knot the score at 18-18 after the first 10 minutes. Leading the pace for Team USA is two-time Paralympic Desiree Miller of Monroe, Washington, with 14 points. Three-time Paralympian Becca Murray of Germantown, Wisconsin, has dished out eight assists in the first.
Two-time Paralympian Rose Hollerman of Elysian, Minnesota, tied the game at the 8:54-minute mark of the second, 22-22, that started another momentum changing run, 8-4. Great Britain came back in the course of the next two minutes and pulled ahead with 3:37 in the half with a basket from Robyn Love, 32-30, finishing a 6-0 run. Murray hit a nice two-point shot from 15 feet and was fouled for a three-point play at 2:11 of the second, giving the United States a 35-32 lead. Gail Gaeng of Frederick, Maryland, closed out a 9-0 run with a driving lay-up giving the United States a 41-36 half-time lead.
Three U.S. players had with double digits after two quarters of play: Miller with 16 points and seven assists; Murray with 11 points and 10 assists; and Hollermann putting up 10 points. Team USA shoot a tournament best 71 percent going 20 for 28 at the half. Great Britain has a slight edge in rebounds, snagging 14 to the United States’ 11.
Great Britain’s leading scorers were Helen Freeman, who played at the University of Illinois for U.S. Women’s Head Coach Stephanie Wheeler, with 12 points, and Amy Conroy with 11 points.
Team USA came out and stymied Great Britain’s attack going on a shooting extravaganza with 26 points, and held Great Britain to only 13 in the quarter. Miller has her best shooting day in the Paralympics with 26 points, followed by Murray’s 21 points and Hollermann’s 14 points. Team USA kept Great Britain from the basket for the first 4:39 of the third. At the end of the third, Team USA had built a comfortable 67-49 lead, which was maintained in the fourth and Team USA advances to the gold-medal game for the first time since 2008.
“They (Great Britain) are a force to reckon with,” said Miller. “This is a huge deal. The one word that keeps coming to me is humbling. The women in the past had built a dynasty and to honor them by getting back to the gold-medal game just shows our respect. It’s humbling to reach the final game. This shows our respect for all of us who have sacrificed so much, and shows our respect before us. It’s powerful to be there tomorrow. I felt this within myself today. Things worked out today for us.”
Closing out the day, Murray finished with 31 points and 13 assists, and was responsible for the last eight points down the stretch for the 89-78 victory. Miller finished the day with a double-double – 26 points and 14 assists. Hollerman was contained for 22 points, and Gaeng contributed her Paralympic best with 10 points.
“I feel wonderfully proud of the team as they accepted the challenge to play their best when it matters. We had potential to be back in the gold-medal game and we did it,” said Wheeler. “Our game plan coming in was to shut off the inside today, but they were hitting everything from the outside. I give credit to Great Britain. We had to change a little and protect the outside and shut down Helen Freeman who had a tremendous game. We went out in the third with a strong defense stance and remained true to our plan as we know our offense can take off from there. We were extremely efficient on offense in the third.”
For Great Britain, Freeman finished with 29 points, followed by Amy Conroy putting back 22 points, and Love finishing with 11 points. The United States finished the day shooting 69 percent from the floor and won the rebound game, 28-25. Great Britain finished the game shooting 55 percent. Team USA is a perfect 5-0 against Great Britain at the Paralympic Games.
The United States will face Germany in the gold-medal game on Friday, September 16 at 4:30 p.m. Eastern. The two countries have seen each other a total of 10 times in the Paralympics, and have a 5-5 record. Germany is the defending Paralympic Games champion in women’s wheelchair basketball. The Netherlands will play for the bronze against Great Britain also on Friday.
The United States is now 42-22 overall in the Paralympic Games. The United States finished the pool play tournament as the only undefeated team, 4-0, scoring the second most points in the pool with 288 (72 pts./game), and allowing the least against, 138 points (34.5 pts./game).
The U.S. Women’s Head Coach is Stephanie Wheeler of Champaign, Illinois, who won two Paralympic gold medals at the 2004 and 2008 Games, and will be assisted by NWBA Hall of Famer Trooper Johnson of San Lorenzo, California, and Amy Spangler of Madison, Wisconsin, with Kearstin Gehlhausen of Whitewater, Wisconsin, serving as the team leader, and Karla Wessels of Lexington, Kentucky, is the athletic trainer. Dr. Roberta Kraus of Colorado Springs, Colorado, serves as both the men’s and women’s Team Psychologist.
The U.S. Women’s team finished fourth at the London 2012 Paralympics, after claiming the gold medal at the Beijing 2008 and Athens 2004 Paralympic Games.
Rio 2016 Paralympic Games
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
September 7-18, 2016
Rio 2016 Paralympic Games Wheelchair Basketball Results
Pool Play (4-0)
USA def. France, 93-37
USA def. China, 70-36
USA def. Netherlands, 60-50
USA def. Algeria, 65-15
Germany def. France, 76-28
Netherlands def. Canada, 78-60
Great Britain def. China, 57-38
USA def. Brazil, 66-35
Germany vs. Netherlands on Sept. 15
United States def. Great Britain, 89-78
Gold Medal Game – United States vs. winner of Germany vs. Netherlands on Sept. 16
Bronze Medal Game – Great Britain vs. loser of Germany vs. Netherlands on Sept. 16
5th/6th Place Game – Canada vs. China on Sept. 16
7th/8th Place Game – France vs. Brazil on Sept. 16
9th/10th Place Game – Argentina def. Algeria, 53-38
Rio 2016 Paralympic Games U.S. Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Record – 6-0
Most points in a game – 93 points vs. France on Sept. 8 (Old record – 75 points in 2008 vs. China)
Largest margin of victory – 56 points vs. France on Sept. 8 (Old record – 50 points in 2004 vs. Great Britain)