Stewart, debuting Thomas help US beat Belgium in WCup opener

  • United States' Shakira Austin, right, and Belgium's Emma Meesseman battle for the ball during their women's Basketball World Cup game in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

SYDNEY — Breanna Stewart scored 22 points and Alyssa Thomas had 14 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in her debut for the United States, which beat Belgium 87-72 in its World Cup opener on Thursday.

Jewell Loyd also scored 14 points for the short-handed U.S. 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. Connecticut Sun players Thomas and Brionna Jones arrived in Australia about 30 hours before tipoff.

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Thomas and Jones were two of six players on the roster who hadn’t played for the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S, 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.

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.

SCOREBOARD:

Puerto Rico beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 82-58 for the country’s first-ever World Cup win.

TRIPLE-DOUBLE WATCH: Thomas, who had a triple-double in each of the last two games in the WNBA Finals, fell just short of getting the first one at the World Cup since Erika Dobrovicova did it in 1994 for the Slovak Republic against Spain.

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