Caldwell leads U19 team to gold

Bill Martin
LSU women's basketball coach Nikki Caldwell.

A successful summer of LSU women's basketball on the international stage was capped last week as head coach Nikki Caldwell and the USA Women's Basketball U19 National Team swept through the FIBA World Championships to claim the gold medal in Lithuania.

Caldwell, who was serving as an assistant coach on the staff led by Miami's Katie Meier, captured a gold medal for the second straight summer. Last year, the group led the USA U18 team to the FIBA Americas title in Puerto Rico. The U19 gold medal comes just weeks after LSU senior forward Theresa Plaisance helped lead the USA to gold at the World University Games in Russia.

"It's an awesome feeling," said Caldwell. "When you look at the journey and all of the things that this team has done up to this point, you just appreciate the opportunity to be around such great people. This is a first-class act, the way that we have prepared and competed. This has been a fun group."

The Americans posted a 9-0 record during the event and dominated France 61-28 in the gold medal game. It represented the USA's fifth straight FIBA U19 World Championship gold medal. The Americans have claimed six of the last seven U19 gold medals and now boast a 54-4 record over that span, while owning an all-time 66-12 record in U19 play.

"It takes a different level of mental toughness to be able to compete at this level and maintain that level of greatness for weeks at a time," said Caldwell. "You play so many games in consecutive days. That says something about their character. The leadership that Coach Meier provided really paved the way for us to win gold."

The U.S. breezed through its first four games of preliminary play while scoring in the 100s in wins against Lithuania, China, Mali and the Netherlands. The win over France on Sunday came just four days after holding onto a 66-63 win over France in pool play. On Saturday, the Americans topped Australia 77-54 in the semifinals to reach the gold medal contest.

Caldwell is the only coach in LSU history to claim multiple USA gold medals while during her tenure as Lady Tiger head coach. In two seasons at LSU, Caldwell has re-invigorated the program, spearheading the Lady Tigers to two NCAA Tournaments, a 2013 NCAA Sweet 16, a 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game appearance and a 45-23 overall record.