Mareike Miller scored 25 points to lead Germany over the Netherlands to the gold medal game of the Rio 2016 Paralympics where they will face the USA. Photo by Steve Goldberg/SCS Media
Rio de Janeiro (Rio 2016 Paralympic Games) - The gold medalists from the last three Paralympic Games will meet for that honor in Rio on Friday as the defending titleholders Germany take on the USA, the top team from both Athens and Beijing.
It will be a rematch of the 2008 final in Beijing and what was expected to be the matchup four years ago before the USA lost to Australia in the semifinal. In Beijing the USA won 50-38 for a second consecutive gold medal.
Germany finished 7th at Sydney 2000, 4th in Athens 2004, and 2nd in Beijing before ascending to the top of the podium in London.
After chasing the Paralympic gold for so long the German team has been reticent to position themselves as the favorites, opting to place the Americans and even their top European rivals, the Netherlands in that position.
"We weren't the favorites, the Dutch were," claimed German coach Holger Glinicki after the match, a sentiment echoed by his players even though they are the current Paralympic and European champions.
They came at it with a plan to take the Dutch star Mariska Beijer out of the game, at least push her further out from the basket. And they did so with both size and numbers, building a Berlin Wall of sorts made from defenders and their chairs to impede one of the world's top players.
According to German point guard Annika Zeyen, the plan was to have at least one big or two smaller players on Beijer at all times with the primary objective of keeping her out of the lane. And swarm her they did, forcing Beijer into shooting 30 percent and limiting her as well to only 10 shots from the field and 8 points for the game.
With that working, the second Dutch option, Inge Huitzing was having an even worse outing, hitting only one of 16 shots. She scored 7, leaving Jiske Visser to lead the Netherlands with 10 points.
Germany led 14-4 after one quarter and 25-12 at the half. But the Netherlands didn't fold and fought back to just five down at the end of the third quarter.
"We had a good first half and defended well and had a clear lead at halftime," said Zeyen. "But it was obvious that they would come back into the match. They are a strong team."
Two free throws by Bo Kramer cut the margin to four with just over a minute to play and as the Dutch fouled to stop the clock, Gesche Schunemann hit 8 free throws to close the game 55-45.
Mareike Miller, who played with Beijer at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, led Germany with 25 points on 61 percent shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds. Marina Mohnen added 12 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists.
USA vs. Great Britain
After knocking off Germany in the preliminary round, a historic win for the nascent British program, their confidence was high.
That set the stage as the much favored United States watched an inspired Great Britain, led by former USA assistant coach Miles Thompson, jump to a 6 point lead midway through the first quarter as Helen Freeman hit 6 of 8 shots for 12 points.
Freeman's success was mitigated though by the consistency of Desi Miller finding herself open at the top of the key and knocking down shot after shot for an equal 12 first quarter points that kept the teams even after the first ten minutes.
The scoring duties spread out in the second quarter as the Americans stifled Freeman, with Amy Conroy (9 points) stepping up for GB and Becca Murray (9) and Rose Hollermann (8) for the USA.
"We didn't start off the game jumping her and putting a ton of pressure on her," admitted USA coach Stephanie Wheeler of Freeman who she coached at the University of Illinois. "She made us pay for that and kudos to her for coming out strong."
Ahead by 5 at the half, the third quarter separated the good from the great as the Americans scored 10 straight and pushed the lead to 15 before GB flickered the scoreboard lights. The lead grew to 23 as the trio of Miller, Murray and Hollermann kept scoring.
Coach Stephanie Wheeler didn't make her first substitution until the beginning of the fourth quarter, contrary to the multiple lineups she has had success with throughout the games.
"That was not the plan but when you're shooting 65 percent, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. That group was playing so well together."
Murray would finish with 31 points (68 percent shooting), Miller 26 points (72 percent), and Hollermann 22 points (73 percent). As a whole, the U.S. shot 69 percent for the game. Freeman would finish with 29 points and Conroy 22 for Great Britain.
The USA will play Germany on Friday for the gold medal preceded by the Netherlands versus Great Britain for the bronze medal.