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Incoming South Carolina freshman A’ja Wilson leads U.S.A. to U18 gold

University of South Carolina recruit A’ja Wilson (Heathwood Hall H.S./ Hopkins, S.C.) posted her second double-double of the U18 FIBA Americas Championship as the U.S.A. defeated Canada (104-74) to win the gold medal in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Aug. 10. The gold medal is the U.S.’s seventh consecutive and eighth in the U18 event, which started in 1988.

“This game was special because it was the gold medal game,” Wilson said. “We took care of business and executed everything. Great things started to happen, and things fell into place. It was a great game.”

The U.S., (5-0) which defeated Team Canada in the final preliminary game on Aug. 8 (107-76 ), took control of the contest early. After Canada opened up the scoring with a bucket, the teams essentially traded baskets until a three-pointer pulled the Canadians within 10-8 with 5:24 left in the quarter. That’s when the red, white and blue took over the game.

Following a pair of free throws by Mariya Moore (Salesian H.S./Richmond, Calif.) , the U.S. went on a 10- 0 run that ended with an easy bucket by Brianna Turner (Manvel H.S/Pearland, Texas) off a dish from Moore at the 1:30 mark. Each team would score four more points apiece to make the score 26-12 after the first stanza.

Canada started the second quarter strong matching nearly each U.S. score through the first few minutes. Leading 34-23 with 6:07 remaining in the half, University of Nebraska recruit Jessica Shepard (Fremont H.S./Fremont, Neb.) scored half of Team USA’s 16 points the rest of the quarter to give the Americans a 50-32 lead at halftime.

The U.S. came out of the locker room strong, putting up a game-high 29 points in the third quarter. The U.S. used a 14-0 spurt to outscore Canada 22-7 over the last 6:54 of the quarter and take 79-47 lead into the last period.

Canada outscored the USA 27-25 in the fourth quarter as the USA coasted to a 104-74 win.

Wilson, who also posted a double-double against El Salvador (15 points, 10 rebounds), was joined in double figures by four teammates. Napheesa Collier (Incarnate Word Academy/O’Fallon, Mo. contributed 18 points and six rebounds while Beatrice Mompremier (Miami H.S./Miami, Fla.) added 16 points and eight caroms. Shepard (14 points, 7 rebounds) and Turner (12 points) were the others in double figures.

Shaylisha Colley led Canada (3-2) with 16 points.

For the five-game tournament, the USA outscored its opponents by a convincing 44.8 points per game margin, and four U.S. players averaged double-digit scoring. Wilson led the way with a U.S. U18 competition record 19.0 points per game while shooting a scorching- hot and U18 record 76.5 percent from the field (39-of-51). Collier averaged 14.0 ppg.,Turner averaged 13.6 ppg. and Shepard scored 12.6 ppg.

Argentina (3-2) took home the bronze medal with a 67-65 victory over Brazil on Aug. 10. Puerto Rico (3-2) captured fifth place with a 51-49 win over Chile (2-3) and Mexico (2-3) topped El Salvador (0-5) 77-45 to finish in seventh place.

The U.S., Canada, Argentina and Brazil qualified for the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship in Russia.

Notes: Moore, who dished out seven dimes, and Wilson each attempted 11 free throws against Canada in the gold medal game – tying the U.S.’s mark for most free throws in a game with Shepard and Turner (Aug. 9).