For Cleveland State senior Sara Guerreiro and her Portugal teammates, medal contention at the World University Games in Chengdu, China lasted about as long as a malfunctioning firework, thanks to a pair of group stage losses to open the tournament on July 27th and 29th.
After months of buildup and training for a career-highlight type event, beginning with the preliminary team selection in May, it was a less-than-ideal situation, to say the least.
The team, however, didn’t let it turn into a full-on disaster.
“We still have three games to demonstrate that we have more level than the one we presented in the first two games,” head coach Ricardo Vasconcelos told his national federation (in Portuguese, later translated) after his team’s elimination. “These university games are a giant step in the career of these young players, and we cannot waste any of these remaining games, we have to show up hungry to win.”
His players did exactly that, sweeping Argentina, Romania and Slovakia in a consolation round over the subsequent days to head back home with a 3-2 overall record and a ninth-place finish.
For Guerreiro’s part, she constructed an important niche within the squad as a player who could enter a game and quickly change its course for the better – something she accomplished in all three Portugal wins. In a 68-54 result against Argentina, that crucial first game of the 9th-12th placement round robin where things could have veered in any direction, Portugal shot just 4-for-18 from the floor in the first quarter and trailed by five after those ten minutes. The Viking then entered the contest and connected on a pair of field goals early in the second quarter, triggering a 19-point surge that resulted in Portugal leading at the half and pulling away from there (thanks, in part, to five more Guerreiro points during the second half).
In a 75-65 win over Romania on August 3rd that officially clinched the consolation group’s top spot, her court time was limited a bit by foul trouble, but Guerreiro still managed to knock down a three-pointer as the first quarter expired. That shot helped negate another early deficit and pulled Portugal within six; they would eventually lead by halftime.
The finale, versus Slovakia, saw Portugal start late yet again, as they trailed 18-13 after the opening frame, thanks to a 4-for-19 shooting effort. Guerreiro hopped off the bench for the second quarter and got things done on the defensive end, grabbing three rebounds in the opening minutes as her team wrestled the lead away. She then hit a three to give Portugal a 26-22 advantage, part of a 26-8 second quarter that helped turn the game from a nailbiter into a 92-56 laugher. Guerreiro produced her best statistical outing of the WUG against the Slovaks with 12 points, three rebounds and a steal in 14:10 of action.
Those successes, of course, followed a pair of group stage defeats that blocked Portugal from advancing to the quarterfinals, ending dreams of a repeat podium finish only about 24 hours after the event’s opening ceremony wrapped up.
Portugal opened with China, the host nation and eventual gold medal winner, an extremely tough ask that resulted in an 83-63 loss in front of a WUG-record crowd of 18,000. Thanks to 17 points by Maianca Umabano, Portugal actually led the contest 37-34 with about four minutes until halftime. However, things fell upside-down from that point, as a 23-3 Chinese run over the next 11:28 of game time essentially sealed the result. The subsequent must-win game against Poland ended in a 59-50 setback where, once again, Portugal had chances – the match was generally tight throughout, including a three-point margin through three quarters – but ultimately couldn’t overcome Poland’s defense and a 31 percent effort from the floor, including 6-fo-31 from three-point range.
Across the tournament, Guerreiro averaged 8:15 of playing time per contest and produced 5.2 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.4 steals in those minutes.