KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – University of Tennessee seniors Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell helped propel the USA U23 Women’s Team to the U24 Four Nations Tournament title with a 103-71 victory over Japan at Katayanagi Arena in Tokyo on Tuesday.
Nared was one of five players in double figures for the USA, tossing in 11 points on four-of-six shooting from the field. She hit one of two attempts from beyond the three-point arc, helping the USA finish 9-of-18 for its best three-ball effort of the tournament. The 6-foot-2 forward added six rebounds and an assist in 20 minutes.
Russell, meanwhile, pulled down nine caroms and added eight points on four-of-five marksmanship. She carded an assist and a block in 17 minutes of duty. She and Nared started all three games of the tourney and finished as the team’s leading rebounders at 6.2 and 5.0 boards per contest. Russell was second on the squad in field goal percentage at 63 percent, while Nared was seventh in scoring at 7.3 points per game.
While its offense was impressive, with 19 assists and five players finishing in double-digit scoring, the USA outrebounded Japan 66-35 and held Japan to just 31.4 percent from the field (27-86 FGs) and 25.0 percent from 3-point (6-24 3pt FGs).
“I thought that was the best we have played in our three games,” said Jeff Walz, USA U23 and University of Louisville head coach. “The kids came out and did exactly what we asked them to do. We knew that Japan was very disciplined on defense, and we tried to attack early, which we did. We shared the ball extremely well and made open shots. It was the best we have shot the ball as well, but a big part of that was because of how well we shared it.”
The USA was led by 16 points from Asia Durr, 13 points and six assists from Kelsey Mitchell, 11 points and seven rebounds from Kalani Brown (Baylor/Slidell, La.), 11 and six from Nared and 10 points from Jordin Canada.
It was nearly five minutes into the game before Japan scored from the field, while Durr, Nared and Russell combined to help the USA start off with a 14-3 lead. The USA went on to earn a 23-10 advantage in the first 10 minutes. In what was its most impressive defensive quarter throughout the tournament, the USA limited Japan to just 4-of-22 from the field (18.2 percent).
Japan responded in the second quarter and nearly kept pace with USA, and the score was 44-33 with 1:34 left in second period. But, the USA finished the first half with eight points to lead 52-33 at the midway point.
The run extended into the third quarter, reaching 18 points overall, as the USA opened the period with a 10-0 spurt to lead 62-33 with 7:55 on the clock. From there Japan put up 17 points to the USA’s 15 points, and the score was 77-50 headed into the fourth quarter.
The USA once again started off the period with an emphatic run, this time a 9-0 stretch that included points from Durr, Mitchell and Nared, and brought the score to 86-50 with 8:14 left in the game. The USA pushed its lead to as many as 37 points, 95-58 at 3:25, and it reached 100 points for the second straight game on a score from Ariel Atkins with 56.0 seconds remaining.
The 103-71 win saw the USA shoot 52.7 percent from the field (39-74 FGs) and 50.0 percent from 3-point (9-18 3pt FGs).
“It’s been awesome, having the opportunity to work with the best of the best in our college game,” Walz said. “I told the team after the game, as impressive as they were on the floor playing, was half as impressive as they were off the court. They are great young women. They are great ambassadors for our game, and I’m excited to watch not just my team play this coming season, but these young ladies’ teams, because college basketball is in good hands with this group.
Also today, Australia (2-1) topped Canada (0-3) 79-52. Australia finished in second place, followed by Japan third and Canada fourth