By Nathan Engel
SOFIA, Bulgaria – The women’s basketball team started its gold medal campaign of 2013 on a strong note, defeating Italy, 85-26, at Universiada Sports Hall.
Three rookies blazed the way for the U.S. Zamica Gage scored 16 points, and Christine Smith and Nukeitra Hayes chipped in with 15 and 13 respectively. Gage also led the team with seven steals, and Hayes pulled down 19 rebounds.
The U.S. grabbed control of the lead early and never relinquished it, starting with a 6-0 run before Italy finally scored with 5:30 left in the first quarter. The U.S. wrapped up the first quarter with a 15-6 lead.
Head coach Laura Edwards wasn’t satisfied with the effort, though.
“We started the game a little slow. For some players, it was understandable especially considering this is their first Deaflympics game. However, the team has to step up … especially on defense,” Edwards said.
The team took Edwards’ words to heart and stepped up on defense, forcing Italy to turn over the ball 19 times. The U.S. also went on a 25-3 run that lasted more than eight minutes.
Center Easter Faafiti embodied the energized defense by diving into the U.S. bench for a loose ball, which Gage translated to a layup. At the half, the U.S. went to the locker room with a commanding 42-16 lead.
“We started a little slow in the beginning. But we definitely started to pick up things in the second quarter and we were able to sustain this throughout the second half,” said center Kristin Feldman, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds,
The U.S. started the second half on a 10-2 run and sustained its defensive efforts, outscoring Italy 21-5 in the third quarter and 22-5 in the closing quarter.
The women face Ukraine at 6 p.m. Saturday in Overgas Hall, and Edwards expects a more robust effort from her players.
“We cannot start slow again. Our players have to know how to play international basketball and not let any other factors affect our game,” she said.
For a photo album from this event, please visit our Facebook page at Women’s Basketball: U.S. vs. Italy.