U.S. B-Ball runs out to winning start

August 20th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: U.S. B-Ball runs out to winning start


U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski comes from the college ranks, but grading his team's performance in the FIBA World Championship isn't part of his program.

Carmelo Anthony led six players in double figures with 21 points and the U.S. team used a pair of second-half spurts to pull away for a 111-100 win over stubborn Puerto Rico to win its Group D opener on Saturday at Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center.

The United States, though, didn't have an easy time of it, and was locked in a close game in the first half. The U.S. broke on top for good midway through the second half, and held off Puerto Rico, which scrapped to the end with a late fourth-quarter run.

When asked to evaluate the much-anticipated opener for a squad built for success, Krzyzewski shot to reporters: "I don't give grades. The final score is what we're graded on."

That means a passing grade on the scoreboard for the United States, which had its moments as LeBron James scored 15 points and dished out six assists. Kirk Hinrich also had 15 points (including three 3-pointers), while Dwyane Wade added 13 points and Chris Paul just missed a double-double with 11 points and nine assists.

But Puerto Rico guard Carlos Arroyo torched through the U.S. team for a game-high 23 points, and backcourt companions Elias Ayuso had 14, while Christian Dalmau chipped in with 13 off the bench.

The United States struggled with their quickness and Puerto Rico also made 10 of 16 3-pointers, including 6-of-9 in the second half.
"We played defense in spurts and that had a lot to do with it--and the fact that Puerto Rico had a number of good ballhandlers in the game, including one through four.

"They're a difficult team, and Carlos is one of the best guards," Krzyzewski said.

"They never lost control of the game, whereas some other team might have let up, they got stronger when adversity hit.

"And that says a lot about the veteran play at the guard spot. They kept their team in it."

In fact, right when the U.S. team shifted into "we've got this" mode, Puerto Rico's second unit turned a 100-81 deficit with 6:22 to play in the final period into an 11-point game with 1:55 remaining.

Puerto Rico coach Julio Toro had the option to bring Arroyo and a number of starters back on the court, but chose to let his backups keep their confidence.

"When the second unit was doing good, it would have broken their hearts if I had taken them from the court, because in this kind of tournament you need 12 players," Toro said of his decision.

"You have to maintain a level. You have to make them believe in themselves," said Toro, whose squad has lost to the U.S. team twice in world warmups since late July.

The United States lacked movement on offense in the first half and didn't make its first shot from outside the paint until Shane Battier knocked down a wide-open 3-pointer from the left side with 3:49 to play in the first quarter.

They got a spark after Anthony was called for a quirky technical foul at the 2:46 mark.

Anthony, who was out of the game but standing in front of the U.S. bench, was handed the ball by the referee and decided to inbound it to a teammate instead of putting it down.

Play continued until the official realized the mistake and blew the whistle as Hinrich drained a jumper.

After a conference, the U.S. was assessed a technical foul for too many men on the court and the basket was nullified.

A fired up Krzyzewski then used a colorful expression to fire up his team, which was trailing by two before Arroyo sank both technical foul shots. The United States took a brief 23-19 lead, but turnovers led to a 5-0 Puerto Rico run, giving it a 24-23 lead after the first period.

Krzyzewski decided to have his defenders pick up 3/4 court. The adjustment seemed to work. The U.S. used a 12-2 spurt to open up a lead and came back with a 9-0 run at the start of the third quarter that gave the Americans a 96-74 cushion.

"We needed to pick the energy up. We felt like they were dictating everything they wanted to do and we wanted to put pressure on them," Hinrich said.

Yao & China trip up

Gianluca Basile went for 27 points and No. 6 Italy used a barrage of 3-pointers in a second-half run that led them past No. 14 China 84-69.
In his first action since breaking a bone in his left foot in April, 2.26-meter center Yao Ming played much of the first three quarters and was the high scorer of the day, pacing his team with 30 points.
But he sat down midway through the third period with his team down double digits.
China had trouble staying with Italy's outside shooters and Yao didn't have much help on the offensive end, Du Feng was the only other player in double figures for China, scoring 10.
Wang Zhizhi, also coming off an injury, had eight points for China.
In the day's second game, five players scored in double figures, led by Bostjan Nachbar's 17 and Sani Becirovic's 16 as Slovenia won its opener.
The U.S. plays China in today's final game at 7:30 p.m., while Puerto Rico opens Day 2 action at 1:30 p.m. against Senegal. Slovenia and Italy tip off at 4:30 p.m.

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