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Basketball: Nigeria lose to the USA 76-71 in final Olympic qualifying match


Nigeria lost 76-71 to the United States in the final Olympic qualifying match in Belgrade, Serbia yesterday. The Nigerians were leading the US 50-57 going into the final quarter of a very close game, but the USA fought back to overtake D’Tigress and win the game. Both teams had already qualified for the Olympics before this game. Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury/Baylor) led the USA offense with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field. Chelsea Gray (Los Angeles Sparks/Duke) added 12 points and a game-high seven assists, Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks/Stanford) added 11 points and Katie Lou Samuelson (Chicago Sky/Connecticut) tossed in 10 points, including a pair of critical fourth quarter 3-pointers. The USA ran to a 9-2 lead to open the game, but Nigeria battled back and at the conclusion of the first quarter Nigeria held a 21-20 lead. It was a dismal second quarter for the USA that almost did the Americans in. Outscored by Nigeria 19-6 in quarter two, Nigeria took a 40-26 lead to the locker room at halftime. Struggling to find the bottom of the net in the second quarter, the USA made just 1-of-16 shots from the field during that span, while Nigeria made 9-of-15 attempts. Recording 13 turnovers in the first half, the Americans were outrebounded by a 25-15 margin, which included Nigeria enjoying a 10-5 advantage on the offensive glass. “Their physicality sort of surprises you,” said USA’s coach, Reeve, when talking about halftime adjustments. “As much as you talk about it, try to prepare for it, it’s different when you actually face it. So, we just had to adjust to that and simplify what we were doing offensively. In the second half we got ourselves into an offense that produced more paint touches. The way that they play on the inside, they fight around the post, and we got Brittney and Syl some easy catches.” The third quarter saw the USA offense come to life, but every USA push was met by a push from Nigeria as well. A traditional three-point play from Ogwumike had the USA within five, 48-43, with 2:21 left in the third quarter, But Nigeria responded by outscoring the U.S. 9-7 in the final minutes to take a 57-50 lead into the fourth quarter. Tied at 70, Wilson scored off a feed from Sue Bird (Seattle Storm/Connecticut) with 1:06 to play to push the red, white and blue ahead 72-70. Nigeria’s Atonye Nyingifaegia made one of two free throws to close the U.S. lead to one, 71-70, with 54 second to go, but Griner scored off an assist from Gray to cushion the USA lead to 74-71 with 41.4 seconds remaining. Nigeria missed two would-be game-tying 3-point shots in the closing seconds, and the USA sealed the win with two free throws from Gray with 11 seconds to play. The USA ended the night shooting 41.3 percent, compared to Nigeria hitting 40.9 percent of its shots. While Nigeria outrebounded the USA 43-36, the USA was fueled to the win by its bench, which outscored Nigeria’s bench 48-15. Serbia defeated Mozambique 76-48 in the other game of the group. Nneka Ogwumike of the USA was voted MVP of the qualifying tournament, and joining her on the five-member All-Tournament team was A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces/South Carolina). Rounding the all-tourney squad were Ana Dabovic of Serbia, Leia Dongue of Mozambique and Eziinne Kalu of Nigeria.

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