SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE, Spain (AP) — Brittney Griner felt like a kid in timeout having to sit out the past two games because of a mild ankle injury.
She made an impressive debut in this year’s FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, scoring 15 points to lead the U.S. to a 102-76 victory over Latvia on Tuesday night.
“Sitting on the bench is the worst. It’s like being on punishment. It’s like, ‘we’re going to take you out and we’re going to let you watch your siblings buy candy and toys. But, you can’t get anything.’ That’s how it is,” said a smiling Griner about not playing the first two games.
Griner injured her ankle in practice on Friday. She came in midway through the first quarter. She scored six straight during a stretch in the second quarter, including an impressive post move where she faked out her defender.
The 6-foot-8 star laughed when asked if she had a name for the move, telling the media to come up with one for her.
With Latvia hanging around in the second half only down 11, Griner took over. She scored the first seven points during a 17-0 run to close the third quarter, including a three-point play with 2:16 left. A’ja Wilson then scored the next seven points and Latvia was finished.
While the U.S. (3-0) got Griner back, they didn’t have Elena Delle Donne or Sue Bird. Delle Donne is still recovering from a bone bruise in her knee she injured during the WNBA playoffs. She had a big game against Senegal in the opener of the tournament before playing only three minutes against China. Delle Donne said after the game that going back-to-back was tougher on her.
Bird was coming off the grind of the WNBA season that ended in a championship with Seattle. The U.S. doesn’t play again until Friday.
“We didn’t want to chance anything,” U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. “I think we had enough in the tank to still win the game.”
Layshia Clarendon got the start for the U.S. and made an immediate impact with four steals in the first eight minutes.
Latvia (0-3) has had an unlucky World Cup debut, losing its first two games by a total of four points. That didn’t deter the nation’s strong fan base from making its presence felt at the game.
Beating drums and screaming loudly on every possession, the fans tried to inspire the team to the monumental upset.
They just didn’t have enough offense to do it.
Tina Charles finished with 18 points to lead the U.S. and Diana Taurasi added 16.
Anete Steinberga led Latvia with 30 points.
“It was a physical game, we scored, they scored, that’s more of the way the U.S. plays,” said Latvia guard Kitija Laksa, who scored 12 points.
“I’m proud of the way my team played. It was a great experience playing against the best players in the world. It hurts, those two losses they sting still. This loss we take it as an experience. We came here to win games, we didn’t come here to just participate. We’re going home tomorrow, this won’t be our last World Cup.”
The victory was the Americans’ 19th in a row in the tournament and 44th in the past 45 games in the World Cup. The only blemish over the past 20 years was a loss to Russia in the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup.
The two teams had only met once before in international competitions at the national team level, playing in a pre-Olympic tournament before the 2008 Beijing Games. The U.S. won by 10 points, using a late fourth-quarter run to win.
APPROACHING MILESTONES: The U.S. is 72 points short of becoming the first team in Women’s World Cup history to score 10,000 points. ... Sue Bird is 13 assists shy of matching Dawn Staley for the most all-time in U.S. history.
SCOREBOARD: In other games on Tuesday, Greece beat South Korea 58-48; Liz Cambage scored 24 of her 25 points in the first half, hitting her first 11 shots, to help Australia rout Turkey 90-64. Japan beat Puerto Rico 69-61, China topped Senegal 75-66 and Nigeria beat Argentina 75-70. Both African teams advanced to the quarterfinal qualifier. Canada rallied to beat France 71-60 and Belgium topped Spain 72-63.
Latvia: World Cup tournament is finished.
U.S.: plays in quarterfinals on Friday night. The Americans will play the winner of Nigeria-Greece.