US women take World Cup, dozens dead from Ian, Ukraine resists land grab, and more latest news today

Get caught up what’s going on around the nation and world today as we greet the first day of October:

The names on the U.S. team have changed, the Americans’ dominance has not.

A’ja Wilson scored 19 points, Kelsey Plum added 17 and the United States beat China 83-61 on Saturday to win its fourth consecutive gold medal at the women’s basketball World Cup.

This was one of the most dominant teams in the Americans’ storied history in the World Cup that now has won 11 gold medals. They’ve won four straight gold medals for the first time. This also was the biggest win in a gold-medal game, surpassing the 20-point wins that the Americans had done twice.

“Everybody wants to beat us. Everybody wants what we have and that’s gold medals and victories,” Breanna Stewart said.

Rescuers continue to search for survivors in flooded homes in Florida after Hurricane Ian’s passage earlier this week. Meanwhile, authorities in South Carolina began at daylight Saturday to assess the damage from the storm’s strike there.

Ian made another landfall Friday on South Carolina’s coast and is now a post-tropical cyclone moving across parts of North Carolina and Virginia. The powerful storm terrorized millions of people for most of the week and officials say it’s blamed for at least 27 deaths in Florida and three deaths in Cuba. But authorities say they expect the death toll to rise further.

Ukrainian forces encircled the strategic eastern city of Lyman on Saturday in a counteroffensive that has humiliated the Kremlin.  Russia said it has withdrawn its troops from Lyman as Ukraine’s eastern counteroffensive gains more ground.

Meanwhile Russian bombardments intensified after Moscow illegally annexed a swath of Ukrainian territory in a sharp escalation of the war.

In the northeast, Ukrainian officials accused Russian forces of attacking a civilian evacuation convoy, killing 20 people including children. In the south, Ukraine’s nuclear power provider said Saturday that Russian forces blindfolded and detained the head of Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

The fighting comes at a pivotal moment in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war. Facing Ukrainian gains on the battlefield — which he frames as a U.S.-orchestrated effort to destroy Russia — Putin this week heightened his threats of nuclear force and used his most aggressive, anti-Western rhetoric to date.

Despite Purtin’s land-grab Friday of four regions in Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his military have vowed to keep on fighting to liberate the annexed regions and other Russian-occupied areas.

Even after three months of captivity that included execution threats, physical torture, solitary confinement and food deprivation, it was the ride to freedom that nearly broke Alex Drueke, a U.S. military veteran released last week with nine other prisoners who went to help Ukraine fight off Russian invaders.

His hands were bound. His head was covered by a plastic bag, and the packing tape holding it in place was secured so tightly it it caused welts on his forehead. Drueke said he and fellow American prisoner Andy Huynh reached their limit in this state during the transit, which occurred in a series of vehicles from eastern Ukraine to an airport in Russia that was surrounded by armed guards.

“The mental and emotional torture of those last 24 hours in captivity, that was the worst,” Drueke said. Drueke and Huynh, a 27-year-old fellow military veteran from Alabama, were among hundreds of Americans who went to Ukraine early on to help in the fight against Russia.

Three things to track this week

The defense team in the Capitol riot trial of the Oath Keepers leader is relying on an unusual strategy with Donald Trump at the center. Lawyers for Stewart Rhodes are poised to argue that jurors cannot find him guilty of seditious conspiracy because all the actions he took before the riot were in preparation for orders he anticipated from the then-president. But those orders that never came. Rhodes and four associates are accused of plotting for weeks to stop the transfer of presidential power, culminating with Oath Keepers in battle gear storming the Capitol alongside hundreds of other Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021. Opening statements in the trial are set to begin Monday.

The Supreme Court begins a new term on Monday at a time of diminished public confidence and justices sparring openly over the institution’s legitimacy. The court seems poised to push American law to the right on issues of race, voting and the environment.

Women are gathering across Michigan to strategize how to preserve abortion rights in their state. The small, personal conversations are playing out alongside more traditional get-out-the-vote efforts, with major stakes for both abortion rights and the mostly Democratic candidates who support them. Michigan is one of a handful of places where abortion rights will be on the ballot in November.

Balloons lift off

Hundreds of hot air balloons lifted off Saturday morning, marking the start of an annual fiesta that has drawn pilots and spectators from across the globe to New Mexico’s high desert for 50 years now.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has become an economic driver for the state’s largest city and a rare — and colorful — opportunity for enthusiasts to be within arm’s reach as the giant balloons are unpacked and inflated. Three of the original pilots who participated in the first fiesta in 1972 and the family members of others are among this year’s attendees.