USA rise to the challenge, fight past Spain for sixth straight title
MALAGA (Spain) - United States faced a serious challenge but rose to the occasion to defeat hosts Spain 79-67 in the Final and take home the title at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2022 for the country's sixth straight gold medal.
Jeremy Fears paced the Americans with 17 points while Ron Holland scored 13 points and Cooper Flagg added an outstanding all-around performance with 10 points, 17 rebounds, 8 steals, 4 blocks for an Efficiency rating of 30 for a USA team that took control of the game with a 22-4 run in the third quarter. Spain had already secured their best-ever result by reaching the Final for the first time and were led by Aday Mara and Hugo Gonzalez, who both had 16 points and Izan Almansa added 9 points and 15 rebounds.
Izan Almansa received the TISSOT MVP award from Spain legend Pau Gasol
The victory improved United States' all-time record in U17 World Cup history to 44-0 dating back to the inaugural 2010 edition. Sharman White's team won their seven games in Malaga by an average of 39.6 points, but the Final against Spain was a tough fight - one in front of a packed arena filled with nearly 7,000 fans.
Despite finishing second in the event, Izan Almansa of Spain was named TISSOT MVP and headed the All-Star Five. He was joined there by the USA duo of Cooper Flagg and Koa Peat, Spanish teammate Lucas Langarita and Ilane Fibleuil of France.
Turning point: Spain were leading 47-40 midway through the third quarter and withstanding each punch the Americans would dish out. But the floodgates opened as the hosts committed eight turnovers over a span of nearly 7 minutes and United States raced away with a 22-4 run to finish the third quarter ahead 62-51.
Game hero: Cooper Flagg - the American all-arounder actually flirted with a triple-double in the Final as he collected 10 points, 17 rebounds, 2 assists, 8 steals and 4 blocks. One of the youngest players in the Final, Cooper is considered by many scouts as the most promising prospect of the tournament. He averaged 9.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.9 blocks on the tournament. If you want to learn more about him, you should definitely check this long portrait of him.
Stats don't lie: Spain committed 25 turnovers and that led to 31 fast break points for the Americans, who had picked up just nine fast break points in the first half.
They said: "It’s an indescribable feeling. To be in an atmosphere like that and to play in a game of that magnitude and to win it, words can’t describe it. I’m so proud of our players, our coaches, our entire support staff. It was a team effort. And those guys believed they could do it, even when we were down at halftime. They didn’t put their heads down. We came out and made some adjustments and getting the game how we wanted to have it and fortunately ending up winning it," USA head coach Sharman White.
"This is big. Last year I was at the FIBA U16 Americas Championship but this is the U17 World Cup and the players are a lot better. It was just really big. We came together in the end and were able to play as a team. We were down at half but we stayed together and didn’t put our heads down and we came out with more energy. We knew Spain weren’t going to give us the game. We had to take the game and that’s what we did. We turned it up a notch and played harder on defense and we just came together," USA guard Jeremy Fears Jr.
"There are no really words I can use to describe it. It’s amazing to share this experience with the guys over the past three and a half weeks. We have built some great relationships," USA forward Cooper Flagg.
"Our guys’ attitude and effort since day one has been excellent - their commitment to the group and to the team all the way until today. Today was just decided by details."
(About USA's big third quarter run): " We know they are the best team in fast break and early offense and we needed to take care of the ball. But for two minutes we lost the focus and we made two or three mistakes in a row and they punished us with the fast break and easy baskets. We tried to come back with two timeouts but it was a big deficit," Spain head coach Javier Zamora.