Stewart, debuting Thomas help US beat Belgium in WCup opener

SYDNEY—It’s been a whirlwind week for Alyssa Thomas.

She went from losing in the Women’s National Basketball Association Finals on Sunday to flying 10,000 miles to Australia a day later to play for the United States in the World Cup.

Thomas had 14 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in her debut for the Americans, who beat Belgium, 87-72, in the tournament opener on Thursday.

After finding out she’d be on the US roster, she never gave any thought to skipping the World Cup.

“Excited to be a part of this, been waiting a long time,” the 30-year-old Thomas said.

US coach Cheryl Reeve was impressed with what Thomas was able to do with the short turnaround time.

“It’s what I expected Alyssa to do, as it’s just what she does. She’s a competitor and knows how to (play),” Reeve said. “WNBA players don’t get enough credit for how well that they transition from overseas play to WNBA play to national team play.”

Breanna Stewart scored 22 points and Jewell Loyd also scored 14 for the short-handed US team, which was still missing Las Vegas Aces players A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum. They were on their way to Australia after celebrating the franchise’s first WNBA championship with a parade on Tuesday. The trio is expected to be in Sydney on Friday.

Thomas and her UConn teammate Brionna Jones, who also arrived on Wednesday, were two of six players on the roster who hadn’t played for the US in either the World Cup or Olympics.

This team is very different from the one that won a third straight gold in Spain in 2018. Sue Bird is retired and Diana Taurasi is out as well. Brittney Griner, who would have been on this team, is in a Russian jail after being convicted of drug possession last month in a politically charged case and sentenced to nine years in prison. The US government is trying to secure her release.

These teams met in the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup, with the Americans using a big third quarter to pull away and win by 16.

The Americans jumped out to a quick 12-0 lead before Belgium settled down to get within one. The US lengthened the lead again behind Stewart and Loyd and was up 48-39 at the half. The Americans went on a 12-4 run to start the third quarter and put the game away.

The US did a stellar job defensively on Belgian Emma Meesseman. The Chicago Sky star led the Olympics in scoring last year, averaging 26.8 points. She had four against the US, which has now won 23 consecutive World Cup games since losing in the 2006 semifinals to Russia. The Americans are three wins short of matching their record 26-game run from 1998-2006.

Julie Vanloo scored 13 points to lead Belgium.

“Really proud of this young team,” Meesseman said. “Sometimes we lacked focus but a lot to be proud of and looking forward to the next few games.”

NEW NUMBER

USA Basketball decided to have no one wear Griner’s No. 15 in this tournament. The Americans have used numbers 4 to 15 for a long time. Brionna Jones, who would have been 15, was wearing No. 16.

Image credits: AP