Final preview: can hosts Spain shock the world against USA?
MALAGA (Spain) - Spain represent the last man standing between the United States and a successful sixth undefeated run to the title as the two superpowers will do battle in the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2022 Final.
Spain would love to write more history as they already have locked up their first U17 World Cup medal. But the United States really haven't been challenged thus far in the tournament and are not ready to lose at this point.
Here is a breakdown of the Final as well as a brief look at the Third Place Game between France and Lithuania.
Will Spain be first team to beat USA?
"All good things must come to an end" ... "There is always a first" ... "Good times don't last forever" - Those are probably just some of the thoughts of Spanish fans as their team heads into the Final against United States, who enter the game with a 43-0 record all-time in the competition and fully expect to celebrate a sixth U17 World Cup crown.
Spain have already written their own U17 World Cup history by getting past the Semi-Finals - after three failed attempts - to secure their first medal. The hosts would love to write another chapter in the competition's annuls and become the first team to defeat the Americans.
Spain and United States have faced off just one time in the U17 World Cup history and that was also a big game - albeit not a close one. The Americans rolled past the Europeans 95-66 in the 2012 Semi-Finals as Justise Winslow collected 17 points and 13 rebounds and Conner Frankamp came off the bench for 13 points.
Spain and United States did get a look at each other just three days before the 2022 edition tipped off in an exhibition and Spain provided a real fight in a 73-69 USA victory. The Americans had been together fewer than two weeks and it was only their second game as a team while Spain were playing their sixth game of the preparations.
Here the box score of USA win over Spain— David Hein (@heinnews) June 29, 2022
USA: 24% 3s 15/28 FTs (54%) 54-37rb 26 ORs
Holland 18p 8r
Fears 7p 3r 7a 6s 1TO 21 +/-
Flagg 4p 7r 2a 4s 0TO 15 +/-
ESP: 32% 3s 21TOs
Mara 13p 5r 3b
De Larrea 11p 2r 5a 18+/-
Almansa 7p 13r@usabjnt @BaloncestoESP #FIBAU17 pic.twitter.com/eQ0BwcCMUh
Numbers to know
United States are the top scoring team in the competition with 103.0 points per game while Spain are fifth with 79.2 points. The Americans also rank second in three-point shooting percentage at 35.4 percent with Spain just one spot behind them at 33.6 percent. But USA have made 8.5 threes per game - only Poland has connected more often in the game.
United States of course are not just an offensive juggernaut but they excel on defense as well, with a competition-best 16.2 steals and concede only 58.8 points per game. They also are tops in rebounds including 22.5 offensive rebounds - compared to 13.0 offensive boards for Spain. One other stat of note that could make a difference if the game is close: Spain have converted just 58.3 percent of their free throws.
Keys to the game
As in any game including the United States, one of the biggest keys will be the Americans forcing turnovers and getting out in transition for easy fast break points. The Spanish have done a good job all tournament in defensive transition to limit those easy baskets.
Spain held the Americans to just 73 points in the exhibition game but the USA team they face in the Final will have a different feel in that they have learned to play with one another - both offensively and defensively. The likes of Ron Holland, Ian Jackson, Koa Peat and Cooper Flagg have emerged as leaders in different facets of the game. But so many others from the United States team have the capacity to take over games for stretches as well.
The Spanish have their weapons as well and Aday Mara was a real force at both ends in the friendly against USA - and that continued throughout the tournament. Izan Almansa has been outstanding all tournament as well and will be needed on the boards against the athletic Americans. Knowing those two will show up, Spanish coach Javier Zamora will need players like Lucas Langarita, Hugo Gonzalez and Alvaro Folgueiras to continue to play well while Sergio De Larrea and Conrad Martinez try to deal with the pressure from the USA defense.
The crowd: If Spain can withstand the waves of defensive pressure the Americans will throw at them - which is a tall task - then it will be the little things that will decide this game. The free throws were just mentioned but another factor could be the crowd at the Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena. The home fans really gave Spain the energy to come back in the Quarter-Finals versus Australia and that support helped Spain finish France in the fourth quarter of the Semi-Finals.
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Who gets U17 World Cup medal number two - France or Lithuania?
Before Spain and United States take the floor in Malaga, European powers France and Lithuania will face off in the Third Place Game. One of the two teams will collect a second U17 World Cup medal - Lithuania a second bronze following 2016 (also in Spain) or France after taking silver in 2018.
The French will face a difficult task of rising to the challenge after losing a heartbreaking game to Spain in the Semi-Finals as Bernard Faure's men had legitimate title hopes coming into the tournament. Lithuania played United States tough in their Semi-Final but did not really have a chance - therefore must not recover nearly as much from a mental standpoint.
France and Lithuania have played twice in U17 World Cup history - and Lithuania won both games. The Baltic side won 75-64 in the ninth place game in 2012 and then prevailed in a thriller 73-72 in overtime in the 2016 Quarter-Finals (highlights in the video above).