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USA wins national-level AmeriCup gold with team comprised of all collegiate stars

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The United States went undefeated and won the 2021 FIBA Women's AmeriCup gold medal in Puerto Rico on Saturday with a team comprised solely of collegiate basketball players. 

Team USA went 6-0 and defeated host Puerto Rico 74-59 to claim the country's second straight gold medal and fourth overall. The U.S. is 30-7 all-time at the AmeriCup, but has typically played the tournament with WNBA stars when its held on schedule in September. 

USA wins AmeriCup with college talent

Turning to the most talented pool in the U.S. wasn't an option this time around with the WNBA season underway and the Olympics coming up in July, so national team and South Carolina coach Dawn Staley turned to the next level of rising talent. 

“We compiled a group of young, college, talented young ladies that made a commitment to come to this tournament, knowing that we would be out-experienced,” Staley said via USA Basketball. “But they worked hard throughout the trials, they worked hard throughout the training camp, and we just kind of let them know that these are grown women you're going to play against. These are professional women's basketball players that you're going to play against, and we're going to have to utilize our depth, utilize our talent, utilize our ability to have played on a big stage in college. 

"But coming here and playing was a great experience with them. I know they made me a better coach. I hope we as a coaching staff made them better players, just to have this type of experience.”

Many of the players have already won gold previously on national teams under the senior level. The 2019 AmeriCup-winning squad included such players as Napheesa Collier, Diamond DeShields, Sylvia Fowles, Arike Ogunbowale, Tina Charles and Jordin Canada.

With the victory, the U.S. qualified to compete in one of the four FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournaments used to determine the 12 teams for the 2022 FIBA World Cup. Puerto Rico, Brazil and Canada also qualify. Brazil defeated Canada in double overtime 87-82 in the bronze medal game. 

Kentucky's Howard named MVP 

Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard, a two-time SEC Player of the Year and leading candidate for national player, was named the AmeriCup tournament MVP. 

“I really wasn't looking for the MVP, just to provide for my team and produce for my team and get us a win,” Howard said via USA Basketball. “To get MVP was an added bonus.”

Howard, who will be a senior this fall, averaged 13.2 points and 3.7 rebounds in 24.2 minutes per game. 

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In the gold medal game, she scored 22 points and had five assists. Her 8-for-20 mark from the field and 4-for-10 mark from 3-point range were AmeriCup records for attempts in each category. 

Elissa Cunane, North Carolina State's star big, joined the all-tournament team. She scored 12 points and had six rebounds in the final. 

Aliyah Boston, South Carolina's star center and national player of the year contender as a sophomore in 2020-21, had 17 points in the final and had an AmeriCup record 19 rebounds. The U.S. out-rebounded Puerto Rico, 63-37. Michigan's Naz Hillmon had 12 rebounds and eight points. Northwestern's Veronica Burton had five assists. 

College stars break U.S. AmeriCup records 

The U.S. women's basketball team celebrates its AmeriCup gold medal victory.  (Photo by RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images)
The U.S. women's basketball team celebrates its AmeriCup gold medal victory. (Photo by RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images)

Aaliyah Boston averaged 9.3 rebounds per game and Cunane averaged 8.0. They now rank first and second, respectively, for rebounds averaged. 

Boston is No. 1 in average blocks at 1.8 per game. South Carolina teammate Destanni Henderson is tied for first in 3-point field goal percentage (.474; 9-for-19). 

Oregon forward Sedona Prince, whose TikTok showed the world the disparities between the men's and women's NCAA tournaments in March, now ranks second in free throw percentage (1.000; 7-for-7). 

The team set records for most rebounds (347), rebounds averaged (57.8) and blocked shots averaged (5.5), per USA Basketball. They tied the record for free throw percentage (.808; 105-for-130). 

The U.S. held an average +35.2 point scoring margin, out-rebounded opponents by an average 20.8 per game and won the turnover battle at +6.5. The team shot 41.0 percent throughout the six games and kept opponents to 30.5 percent. Their closest win was by 11 against Brazil.

Staley led the squad with Jennifer Rizzotti, the newly named president of the Connecticut Sun, and Adia Barnes, the University of Arizona head coach, completing the staff. 

Impromptu dance-off in gold medal game

Boston stepped to the free throw line at 1:59 as the U.S. began to close out the medal-winning victory when the overhead lights at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan went out. During the break, fans waved their cell phones like flashlights and players on both teams began an impromptu dance-off at center court. 

The break in its entirely was about 25 minutes. Boston hit both of her free throws coming out of the situation to bring the U.S. to a 72-59 lead and eventual win. 

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