In a game that came down to the wire, the USA men (7-0) continued with their balanced team efforts and unselfish play to hold off France (5-2) 83-81 and win the gold medal on Sunday at the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup for Men in Riga, Latvia.
With the win, the Americans claimed back-to-back gold medals at the FIBA U19 World Cup and have won gold in four of the past five U19 World Cup events (2021, 2019, 2015, 2013). The USA also has won 14 consecutive games at the event dating back to 2017.
Chet Holmgren (Minnehaha Academy/Minneapolis, Minn.), who averaged 11.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists overall, was named FIBA U19 World Cup MVP. He was joined on the All-Star Five by Jaden Ivey (Purdue/Mishawaka, Ind.), who contributed 12.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game, as well as France’s Victor Wembanyama, Zach Edey of Canada and Serbia’s Nikola Jovic.
Averaging 95.0 points a game, the USA’s average winning margin in the seven wins was 29.7 points a game.
“We battled. We were worn down, but we battled down the stretch and found a way, so I am proud of them,” said USA head coach Jamie Dixon (TCU). That is a really good France team that really responded, competed and played well together. They (France) are obviously very talented and well coached and have been together a long time to my understanding, but glad we were able to pull it off.”
In the first half, both teams were exchanging baskets and keeping the energy at a high intensity level. The Americans got out to a 12-4 lead to start and had a slight 21-19 edge after the first quarter. France stayed in it, battling back in the second quarter by outscoring the USA 23-16 to lead by five points at halftime (42-37) behind strong play from Victor Wembanyama, who tallied 14 points, five rebounds and four blocks in the first half. Adam Miller (Louisiana State/Chicago, Ill.) had a strong first half for the Americans with 12 points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals.
The USA surrendered the lead at the 8:26 mark of the second quarter after a 3-pointer from France and wouldn’t regain an advantage until late in the fourth quarter when adjustments were made.
“Defensively we got the stops, so that’s what helped us, and on offense we tried to go down low to Kenny (Lofton Jr.) late,” said Dixon. “We didn’t handle the pressure well, and they were really aggressive and really physical on balls screens, drives and denials, and we didn’t handle it well. But, really our defense got it done down the stretch, we took away the 3 and kept them off the foul line.”
The Americans regained the lead at the 6:51 mark in the fourth quarter when Holmgren laid it in high off the glass to take a 69-68 lead during an 11-0 run in the final stanza. The USA held on to capture the gold medal.
“We were staying together. We didn’t want to let any adversity pull us apart,” said Holmgren. “We went through everything in the last three weeks to get here, and we all knew we weren’t leaving without the gold. It was just a matter of what we had to do to make that happen. In the fourth quarter we made the adjustments and came out on top.”
The USA finished with five players scoring in double-figures with Ivey leading the USA, recording a team-high-tying 16 points, four rebounds, three steals and one block; while Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Louisiana Tech/Port Arthur, Texas) also had 16 points, seven rebounds, two assists and one steal. Miller added 12 points, four rebounds and three steals; Mike Miles (TCU/Lancaster, Texas) contributed 11 points, seven rebounds, six assists and a game-high four steals; and Holmgren chipped in 10 points, two rebounds and five assists.
“There is so much pride, we put a lot of work into this. We came together as a team and we conquered,” said Ivey. “I am just so thankful to be a part of this team, and it’s just a great feeling to win some hardware and that we get to represent our country. We are some of the best players in the world, so I am just thankful and it’s just a blessing.”
“When we play our game, no one can stop us. We just came out and performed and played to the best of our abilities, and we just cherished every moment together and we’re going to have fun with this one,” stated Ivey.
The USA dished out 18 assists in the game, forced France into 16 turnovers, which led to 21 points, and outscored its opponent 44-22 in the paint. The USA finished the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup with the most total points (665), assists (177) and blocked shots (53) and third in rebounds (351).
“I’ve enjoyed the guys on the team, the coaches. They are all great people,” stated Holmgren. “Playing basketball with them and forming friendships and relationships that will last a long time is great, and these are my people forever now.”
“This is right there at the top. I don’t know how much better it can get at this stage in my career. Hopefully a lot more things to do going forward, but this is up there at the top,” said Holmgren.
Assisting Dixon to a gold medal on the USA sidelines were assistant coaches Jerod Haase (Stanford) and James Jones (Yale).
It was grind, there’s no question, but there’s a lot of joy in it,” said Dixon. “Coach Jones and coach Haase, the time they put in, the scouts they did, the coaching, the substituting, they were tremendous.
The USA is now 105-14 overall in U19 play since the event launched in 1979 and has won eight gold medals, three silver medals and one bronze overall.
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