The USA 3x3 men's and women's basketball teams posing during the medal ceremony at the Pan American Games Lima 2019 on July 29, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
LIMA, PERU – Different backgrounds. Different styles of play. Different roads to the finals.
The U.S. men’s and women’s 3x3 basketball teams each claimed a Pan American Games gold medal before a capacity crowd on Monday at the Eduardo Dibós Coliseum in Lima, Peru.
For the men, their win was sealed by Jonathan Octeus’ game-winning free throw over tournament-favorite Puerto Rico. Bounding up and down with uninhibited joy, Octeus and his teammates were joined on the floor by members of the women’s team, forming an American mosh pit beneath the basket.
“They’re great competitors, great athletes and great people,” Dominique Jones said of the U.S. women’s squad, a team the U.S. men got to know well through a week of training with one another in Lima.
“They definitely kept inspiring us to win games,” Octeus added. “They ran the tournament. Our story was a little different, but watching them, seeing how much fun they were having, helped us switch gears,” he said.
The U.S. women were the team to beat in Lima, going undefeated throughout the tournament and defeating their opponents by an average margin of victory of more than 11 points. University of Oregon teammates Sabrina Ionescu and Ruth Hebard lit up the scoreboard in pool play, each averaging more than seven points per game.
The Oregon teammates took control of the games in different ways, yet always remained in sync to lead Team USA’s attack. Ionescu, a sharpshooter and floor general, shot 57 percent from beyond the arc. Hebard dominated the glass, posting a nearly inconceivable 83 percent field goal percentage through the team’s first six games.
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“We’ve been playing together for three, going on four years now,” said Ionescu. “The relationship (we) have off the court definitely leads to the trust we have on the court.”
That trust would pay off in the championship game against Argentina, as Ionescu and Hebard connected for several clutch field goals throughout the contest. With a 20-17 lead in the game’s final minute, Ionescu would spot Hebard cutting towards the basket, delivering a perfectly timed pass to clinch the gold medal.
For the U.S. men, the Pan American Games presented a bumpier road to the gold medal game. Team USA lost three of its first four games of the tournament, including three in a row against Brazil, Puerto Rico and Argentina. It was an impromptu team meeting at their hotel following the rough patch that led to the turnaround, said Octeus.
“We had to battle through adversity, and that’s what really brought us all together,” he said. “We persevered through our losses and got stronger as the tournament went on. And that’s the American way.”
Riding a two-game winning streak entering the gold medal game, the U.S. men faced Puerto Rico, a team that went undefeated in its prior tournament games. Trading baskets and maintaining their high pace of play, Octeus combined with teammate Sheldon Jeter to score 16 of Team USA’s 21 points. In the end, it was Octeus’ clutch free throw that captured the gold medal.
Each gold medal was the first won by Team USA in 3x3 basketball at a Pan American Games, a sport discipline making its Games debut in Lima. It will also appear on the Olympic program for the first time at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.