Stanford junior Erica McCall recorded a double-double with 22 points and 18 rebounds to help the USA women's basketball team top Italy, 80-68, on Sunday at Dongkang College to open the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea.
"It feels really great," said McCall, whom her Stanford teammates call 'Bird.' "We've been practicing for a while and going really hard, so it was great to finally get to play and to get this win. They were a really tough team and this was a great win for us.
The United States was able to overcome a high number of turnovers (33) in the opener because it pounded Italy inside, outscoring the Italians, 52-20, in the paint. The victors also scored 21 second-chance points on the strength of 23 offensive rebounds. USA won the battle on the boards overwhelmingly Sunday, 51-27.
"I felt like we did a lot of good things and showed some other things we can build on," said USA head coach Joe McKeown. ""Erica McCall was incredible. She just went after absolutely everything. We need that from everyone, our perimeter people too. We have to clean up our turnovers, but I thought defensively in the second, third and most of the fourth quarter, we did a much better job of defending the 3 and not letting them get to the rim. We talked better. We're still learning how to space the floor, but our quickness took over and our offensive rebounding looked phenomenal. We saw a lot of positive things right there."
Aerial Powers added 22 points, including 12 during a 15-3 second-quarter run that put the Americans on top for good.
Upon opening up an 8-3 lead after McCall scored back-to-back baskets in the first quarter, the Italians started converting from long range, using a 14-4 run to take the advantage.
McCall helped grab the momentum for the USA early in the second period after she netted a 3-point play to give the Americans a 27-26 edge.
The teams went back and forth for a few possessions when Powers began to really push the pace. Powers scored 12 quick points during a 15-3 run that gave the USA a sizable lead.
"The game had been going back and forth, back and forth, and sometimes when it's like that, you need someone to step up and give the team that spurt," said Powers. "This time I was that player, but we have great players all over our team. Everybody will step up and do their part and that's pretty much what happened today."
When the teams returned to the floor to begin the third quarter, the United States continued to play the role of the aggressor. Mercedes Russell got in on the act as she scored off a feed from Powers to push the lead to 11 at 53-42. The Italians later got to within six, but McCall corralled one of her 10 offensive rebounds and put it back to earn a 62-54 lead after three.
"Those were really important because they kept us motivated to keep pushing even though we weren't making shots," McCall said. "Those offensive rebounds really boosted our energy and helped us a ton."
The fourth quarter was point guard Jordan Canada's time to shine. She scored all nine of her points, including seven from the charity stripe.
The USA continues Group C play against China on Monday. Group play concludes on Tuesday with a contest against the Czech Republic.