United States grabs gold at milestone-filled FIBA Women’s Worlds in Turkey

A common theme throughout the 2014 FIBA Women’s World Championships was milestones. The medal round was filled with plenty of unique accomplishments that added to the excitement of the event. Heading into the gold medal game for the first-time ever was Spain.

Competing against the favored United States, both clubs entered the gold medal game with identical 5-0 undefeated marks. Fenerbahce Arena in Istanbul would be the setting for another dominant American performance.
Maya Moore would set the tone early on as she contributed eight points as the US emerged with a 15-5 advantage. As a side note, Spanish head coach Lucas Mondelo has coached Moore’s club team in China, Shanxi Xing Rui, winning the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association title in 2012-13.

By halftime, Moore logged 16 points while Diana Taurasi recorded seven assists as the United States enjoyed a 48-29 lead. With Spanish scoring leader Sancho Lyttle having already picked up three fouls, it only added to their woes. Despite their best efforts, the Spaniards would fall to the US in a 77-64 victory.

In the gold medal game, Sancho Lyttle led all Spanish players with 16 points and 11 rebounds, along with 4 steals and 1 block. The top player statistically for the USA was Tina Charles, who logged 10 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists for an efficiency rating of +19. Of note, Maya Moore would lead all players in gold medal game scoring with 18 points. In addition, she would post 4 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal as the US captured its fourth gold medal in the last five attempts.

On her way to the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award, Maya Moore ranked fourth overall in points per game with 15.3. Lyttle of Spain emerged as one of the elite competitors in the event, as she led all players with 18.2 points per game. She would also show great versatility by posting a tournament-best 3.3 steals per game.

In WNBA circles, Lyttle is a competitor with the Atlanta Dream. Like many of her peers, she spends her WNBA off-seasons playing abroad. Having won four Euroleague titles in her distinguished career, her most recent win came with Galatasaray in 2014.

Statistically, American players were peppered throughout the leader boards. Diana Taurasi averaged 4.5 assists per game, tied for third overall with Katerina Bartonova of Russia and Cuba’s Oyanasis Gelis. For Taurasi, it was her third career medal for the United States. She would join fellow Americans Tamika Catchings, Delisha Milton-Jones, Katie Smith, Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley (who was a coach for Team USA in 2014), Jennifer Azzi, Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain with three career medals.

Brittney Griner of the WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury ranked second in blocks per game with 2.0, while LaToya Pringle of Turkey led all players with 2.7. Like Griner, Pringle was also a first round pick of the Phoenix Mercury. She would be selected by the club in the 2008 edition of the WNBA Draft. Her last WNBA appearance came in 2012 with the Washington Mystics. Pringle was a key factor in host country Turkey finishing with a 4-2 mark, plus appearing in the bronze medal game to Australia.

One of the feel-good stories of the event belonged to Australia’s Penny Taylor. One of the statistical leaders in assists per game, Taylor emerged as a key contributor in the Mercury’s road to the 2014 WNBA title victory over the Chicago Sky. After knee surgery sidelined her for most of 2013, her return to the club near the end of the 2014 regular season was essential. Of note, it was Taylor’s third WNBA title, having also won titles in 2007 and 2009 (also with the Mercury).

Helping Australia to a bronze medal, it was Taylor’s third FIBA medal. She would help Australia win its first-ever gold medal in 2006, while earning another bronze in 2002. A first-round pick of the Cleveland Rockers in the 2001 WNBA, she was selected first overall by the Mercury in the 2004 dispersal draft.

In addition, Taylor was named to the 2014 FIBA World Championship All-Star Five. She was joined by Lyttle and Alba Torrens from Spain. Maya Moore and Brittney Griner were the two Americans named. American captain Sue Bird became the player with the most medals in the history of the FIBA Women’s Worlds with four. In her career, Bird earned three medals (2002, 2010, 2014) and one bronze medal (2006).

Women’s sports has proud presence at 2014 ESPY Awards

One of the greatest forums to recognize female sports excellence, the 2014 edition of the ESPY Awards delivered again. With the red carpet filled with some of the biggest (and most beautiful) names in female sport, such as Danica Patrick and Hilary Knight, it had all the elegance and allure of the Academy Awards in an evening that celebrated some remarkable women.

Danica Patrick stuns in white at the ESPYs Red Carpet (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Danica Patrick stuns in white at the ESPYs Red Carpet (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Fan favorite Maria Sharapova may have been the most notable female athlete to gain an award, earning Best Female Tennis Player honors. Jamie Anderson, who also appears in the 2014 ESPN Body Issue took home the Female Action Sports Athlete Award. Of note, Anderson would emerge as the only female athlete to win two ESPY Awards. Beating out Maddie Bowman, Kelly Clark, Vicki Golden and Carissa Moore for the Best Female Action Sports Athlete award, she was also the winner of the Best Female US Olympic Athlete.

Maria Sharapova at the ESPYs Red Carpet (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Maria Sharapova at the ESPYs Red Carpet (Photo credit: Getty Images)

After winning the 2014 US Women’s Open at Pinehurst, her first major, Michelle Wie built on the momentum by earning earned Best Female Golfer, beating out Stacy Lewis, Inbee Park (who was also nominated for Best International Athlete) and Suzann Petersen.

An aspect of sport that does not always gain recognition, athletes with disabilities were acknowledged. In the Best Female Athlete with a Disability category, Jamie Whitmore was named the recipient. Fellow nominees included the likes of Minda Dentler, Oksana Masters, Tatyana McFadden and Laurie Stephens.

After leading the Minnesota Lynx to their second straight WNBA title, Maya Moore added to her growing collection of awards and honors by earning the ESPY for Best WNBA Player. In a field that included Elena Delle Donne, Angel McCoughtry and Candace Parker, any of the nominees would have been a worthy selection.

Of note, Moore was also nominated for the Best Female Athlete award. She would not get the opportunity to join Anderson as a two-time award winner this evening. The award would go to Ronda Rousey, who has dominated the UFC female division, having gone undefeated in her last four appearances. Mikaela Shiffrin and Breanna Stewart were among the other nominees for the honor.

Stewart would not leave the 2014 ESPY Awards empty handed. Having emerged as the greatest female college basketball player in America, she would earn the nod for Best Female Collegiate Athlete. Having led the UConn Huskies to a second consecutive national title, she follows in the proud footsteps of Huskies alumnae such as Moore, Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi.

The field for Best Female Collegiate Athlete was nothing short of impressive. Morgan Brian, a soccer player at Virginia, Taylor Cummings, who competes in lacrosse with Maryland, Micah Hancock, who rewrote the record books at Penn State Volleyball and Hannah Rogers, a softball player from Florida were all in contention for the award.

Breanna Stewart expected to have a sensational sophomore season

Hailing from Syracuse, New York, the 6’4” Breanna Stewart is entering her sophomore season as one of the elite competitors in NCAA women’s basketball. After a freshman season which saw her lead the Connecticut Huskies to their eighth NCAA title in 2013, there is already talk of how many more championships she can obtain with the Huskies.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Following in the proud legacy of other Huskies legends such as Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles and Maya Moore, her performance is already making WNBA scouts salivate at the thought of selecting her in the 2016 Player Draft. Of note, Moore was at the NCAA title game to see Stewart and her UConn team in action.

Having selected UConn over Duke, Penn State and Syracuse, Stewart enters her sophomore season expected to extend the Huskies legacy as the premier women’s basketball program in the NCAA. Recognized by six different organizations (including Gatorade, USA Today, Parade Magazine and McDonald’s) as the National High School Player of the Year in 2012, she was only the second high schooler to compete for Team USA in the Pan Am Games during 2011.

When she was recruited by Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma, he believed that she had the potential to be the greatest NCAA women’s basketball player ever. Hardcourt aficionados began to sing his praises when she established a program record for most points scored in the first 10 games of her Huskies career (169 points). She would finish the season with 497 points (fourth best by a freshman) and 74 blocks (third best by a freshman) as her efforts landed her a spot on the Big East All-Freshman Team.

Unfortunately, a mid-season slump began to cast a shadow of doubt. Being nicknamed Bambi by the coaching staff (due to losing her balance, bad timing and could not run a straight line) as she struggled to reach her potential, her season seemed to be going into a downward spiral. Some thought that her carefree personality had emerged to serve as a weakness.

With a commitment to improving her skills, many early-morning training sessions entailed a return to fundamentals. Emphasis on elements such as shooting and post moves saw the hard work paid off as she contributed to the Huskies beating Louisville by a 33 point margin (the largest ever) in the Final Four. Stewart would log 23 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.

At the 2013 NCAA women’s Final Four, she was named the Most Outstanding Performer, making her only the fourth freshman to earn the honor. This was complemented by a nod as the NCAA Tournament Bridgeport Regionals MOP, making her the third Huskies player (along with Taurasi and Moore) to win both in the same year. During five NCAA tournament games, she averaged 20.8 points, 6.2 rebounds along with a team high .563 shooting percentage.

As expectations increase and pressure accompanies it, the thought of another spell of self-doubt may linger. Reputed as happy-go-lucky and innocent, it needs to be remembered that she is just one player on the team. With Auriemma looking to become the first NCAA women’s basketball coach to win nine championships, Stewart cannot be pressured to the point where the goal of a ninth title surpasses her own development. Having to live up to the legacy of past UConn players is simply too much to bear for any player, regardless of talent.

With programs like Duke and Louisville featuring strong squads once again, any championship shall truly be hard-earned. High expectations tend to result in disappointment and unrealistic goals. The players that succeed are those that have fun and Stewart needs to be in an environment conducive to that.

While mental toughness is the difference between winners and losers, she has too much talent to squander it away. All she needs is the time to develop her game and be comfortable enough to take the next step in her career and serve as the program’s cornerstone.