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United States at Belgium final score: The Americans barely win 81-79, but Julie Vanloo shows that she can more than “hold her own” in the WNBA

Breanna Stewart saved the day for the Americans, but the Mystics’ newest training camp signee showed us that she can more than just …. “hang with the fellas” in the WNBA.

BASKET 2024 OLYMPICS QUALIF BELGIUM VS USA Photo by DIRK WAEM/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

The USA Basketball women’s national team defeated the Belgium women’s national basketball team, 81-79 on Thursday evening in Antwerp in the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament.

The easy headline to go with today is that the Americans were nearly upset, but New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart made a layup with just 3 seconds left. Also, Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier scored 23 points off the bench on 8-of-13 shooting to help give the Americans a fourth quarter push and come back from a. … THIRTEEN POINT DEFICIT!

There’s also a part of me that wants to say that the Belgian Cats choked. And you know what? They did choke. Belgium was leading for nearly the entire game. And they SHOULD HAVE WON GIVEN HOW THIS GAME WENT! Even with former Mystics star Emma Meesseman being held down to 6 points on 3-of-9 shooting tonight. I expected that, because she is the Belgian we Americans are most familiar with.

When Team USA decides to focus on another team’s best player, there are other players who need to fill the void. And tonight, it was starting point guard Julie Vanloo, whom the Mystics signed to a training camp contract in this season’s free agency period. Vanloo led the Cats in scoring with 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting including 5-of-12 from the three point line and dished 4 assists.

I don’t have video to show her highlights, but I will tomorrow when FIBA gets to it.

In addition to Vanloo, guard Maxuella Lisowa Mbaka added 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, having a more stereotypical “Meessemanesque” night if you will.

The Cats shot 50 percent from the floor while the Americans shot 41.7 percent themselves. However, if there’s one thing I don’t like from Belgium, it’s that they are reluctant to go for free throws, even if it’s not the “best textbook fundamental play” to make. They attempted 12 free throws (and made 7) while the Americans attempted 31 free throws (and made 27) themselves.

If Belgium wants to have a better chance at beating America, they need to depend on more than just a hot shooting night. They’re going to need to be willing to get fouled and take free throws.

Mystics guard Ariel Atkins played 12 minutes off the bench tonight for Team USA, scoring 4 points.

For Team USA, the games get easier and they have nothing to play for technically speaking. They play Nigeria tomorrow at 12:15 p.m. ET when I can focus more on Atkins if she gets time. Remember that Belgium is on Central European Time, which is six hours later than Eastern Time.

But now, just when I thought that I’d never, EVER have to cover the Belgian Cats again, I think I have to see how they do against Senegal and write about it. Tip-off there is at approximately 2:45 p.m. ET.