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US 87, Belgium 72

Breanna Stewart, debuting Alyssa Thomas help US women beat Belgium in World Cup basketball opener

Breanna Stewart had the hot hand for the United States, scoring 22 points.VIRGINIE LEFOUR/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

SYDNEY — Breanna Stewart scored 22 points and Alyssa Thomas had 14 points, 9 assists and 7 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 t They were on their way to Australia after celebrating the franchise’s first WNBA championship with a parade Tuesday. The trio is expected to be in Sydney Friday. Connecticut Sun players Thomas and Brionna Jones arrived in Australia about 30 hours before tipoff.

Thomas and Jones were two of six players on the roster who hadn’t played for the US in either the World Cup or Olympics.

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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 US 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 1. The US 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 US 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 4 against the US, which has 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.

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