TOULOUSE, France -- The first five minutes of the quarterfinal game between USA and Spain felt exactly like the American's first pool play game against the French. The team came out tight and forced passes where they didn't belong. But true to form in these FIBA U17 World Championships, it was just a matter of time before the USA exploded, which it did to an 86-57 win over Spain.
The victory means the USA will play China in Saturday's semifinal.
Chinese post Dong Yu was too much inside for Russia, leading China to a 68-59 victory. Point guard Hongyang Cui was the rock for China, creating scoring opportunities off of strong dribble penetration. China came in shooting more than 22 threes per contest and shot 20 against Russia, converting on six of those shots.
China may be the biggest challenge yet for the USA as it has more depth than most of the competition. However it was depth that came up huge for the USA against Spain as the second unit contributed 19 first-half points to get the team in rhythm with a 9-0 run to close out the first quarter.
This game was very different than the one played in Spain a few weeks ago when the USA played the Spanish in an exhibition game. The USA won, but by just nine points.
"We played Spain two weeks ago and we struggled with their pressure defense," USA head coach Barb Nelson said. "They took the ball from us a lot and we really struggled defending their shooters, they were able to shoot the three, they got open any time they wanted to. So our focus for today's game was really to defend their 3-point shooters as well as we possibly could and take care of the basketball, so that we didn't have as many turnovers against their pressure."
The team turned the ball over 18 times, but only seven of those were in the first half when the outcome was still in question.
"I think our bench play was really important today. Jewell (Loyd) came in and knocked down a bunch of shots and picked up the tempo. Ariel (Massengale) was playing a slower today than she had been playing and Jewell came in and ignited us and Cierra Burdick came in and ignited us and allowed Kaleena (Mosqueda-Lewis) to get open and get shots. So I think once again our depth was really really important.
Mosqueda-Lewis finished with a game-high 16 points. The bench contributed 41 of USA's 87 points with no player reaching 21 minutes of playing time.
The bench has been maintaining a high level of intensity the past few games, in large part due to the desire to play more minutes. These players are used to playing nearly the entire game for their high school and club coaches. By and large that has led to the bench playing hard regardless of the score.
"We came ready to this game," Loyd said. "We knew what we had to do for our assignments and we just brought it. It was game time for us."
The focus was evident in the team finishing 60 percent of it's field goal attempts, even with the pressure defense and hard fouls that Spain brought to the floor.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.