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Former Gamecocks Wilson, Mitchell are finalists for FIBA Basketball World Cup team

A’ja Wilson and Tiffany Mitchell are finalists on the USA Basketball team headed to the FIBA World Cup in Spain

Basketball: International Women’s Basketball-Japan at USA Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

After three domestic exhibition games, the 16-player finalist roster has been set for the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.

WNBA Rookie of the Year A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces) and Indiana Fever guard Tiffany Mitchell will join fourteen other players on the USA Basketball Women’s National Team (#USABWNT) as they travel next week to play three more exhibition games overseas for a chance to make the final roster that will represent the United States in the FIBA Women’s World Cup. The World Cup will be held in Tenerifa, Canary Islands, Spain from September 22-30. The winner of the World Cup will automatically qualify for the 2020 summer Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo, Japan.

Wilson was the number one overall pick in the 2018 WNBA draft who was also the first three-time SEC Player of the year and a consensus sweep of all National Player of the Year awards. She was the captain of the Gamecocks team that captured the 2017 NCAA basketball championship, a first for either of South Carolina’s basketball programs. Mitchell was a two-time SEC Player of the Year who led the Gamecocks to the 2015 NCAA Final Four and was the ninth overall selection by the Fever in the 2016 WNBA draft; she also made the All-Rookie Team that season.

Wilson, who received her Rookie of the Year award before the final game versus Japan, followed her impressive rookie season with an equally impressive showing in all three games. She averaged in double-digit scoring while providing a significant defensive presence on the glass.

Mitchell, while not a prolific scorer, provided a disruptive defensive presence for opposing teams.

The USA Basketball Women’s National Team Player Selection Committee had the final say on which players were cut after each exhibition game, with the understanding that Team USA veterans Elena Delle Donne (Washington Mystics); Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd, and Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm); and Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury) would all join the team once their WNBA playoff obligations were fulfilled and that Tina Charles (New York Liberty) and Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks), both of whom played in the exhibition games, are also considered locks to play in Spain. The players for the 2020 Olympic team still have yet to be determined.

Both casual and ardent women’s basketball fans are scratching their heads as to why Diamond DeShields (Chicago Sky) did not make the finalist team, as she was a dominant force in all three recent exhibition games (she did not play in the USA’s exhibition vs. China in May). DeShields is not the only player that some felt should have made the 16-player roster due to their level of play in the exhibitions (hi, Arike Ogunbowale and Odyssey Sims), but that’s why the Selection Committee makes the medium bucks; they apparently took other things into consideration when making their eventual World Cup roster selection.

The WNBA’s Elizabeth Williams (Atlanta Dream) joins Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces), Layshia Clarendon and Morgan Tuck (both of the Connecticut Sun), and Napheesa Collier (UConn) as first-timers on the finalist roster.

Collier is the only current college player to make the World Cup finalist roster, having beat out Gamecock junior point guard Tyasha Harris, Ogunbowale and Jessica Shepard (both of Notre Dame), and Ruthy Hebard and Sabrina Ionescu (both of the University of Oregon) for a spot. Collier and Ogunbowale are widely considered to be first-round picks in the 2019 WNBA draft; so is Ionescu, if she decides to leave Oregon early (she is currently a junior).

The World Cup finalist roster is as follows:

Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)

Tina Charles (New York Liberty)

Layshia Clarendon (Connecticut Sun)

Napheesa Collier (UConn)

Elena Delle Donne (Washington Mystics)

Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury)

Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm)

Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks)

Kelsey Mitchell (Indiana Fever)

Tiffany Mitchell (Indiana Fever)

Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces)

Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm)

Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)

Morgan Tuck (Connecticut Sun)

Elizabeth Williams (Atlanta Dream)

A’Ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces)

The USABWNT will play three more exhibition games in an international tournament in Antibes, France from September 15-17. The USA will face off against Canada (again), France, and Senegal before arriving in Spain for the World Cup games. Canada had a strong showing against the USA in the exhibition match on September 8 in Bridgeport, CT before Team USA came back in the fourth quarter to take a 74-68 win.

The above list of sixteen players will be whittled down to twelve by the time Team USA arrives in Spain. USA is in Group D in the World Cup and will play against Senegal (September 22), China (September 23), and Latvia (September 25). You can follow all of the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball action with the official app (it’s free for both Apple and Android systems).