InsideHoops.com NewsWire: The USA Men’s Senior National Team (5-0) utilized a 24-4 second quarter run to close the door on Puerto Rico (1-4) and lock up a berth into the FIBA Americas Championship 2007 semifinals with a 117-78 win Tuesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev.
The win, the USA’s 32 consecutive win in Olympic qualifying play dating back to 1992, kept the USA on top of the second round standings with also undefeated Argentina, and more importantly assured the U.S. of a spot in the Sept. 1 semifinals. Winners of the two semifinal contests will earn the ultimate prize, a qualifying berth for the 2008 Olympics.
“We knew that Puerto Rico would be a challenge,” said USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “They’ve always played well against the United States, and they have a few NBA players on their team. So, we respected them. They controlled the tempo in the first quarter then our defense kind of blew it apart.”
Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) scored 11 points in the first quarter and Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets) added six to help the USA build a modest nine point, 24-15, first quarter lead.
Amaré Stoudemire (Phoenix Suns) capped an alley-oop from Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons) at 9:50 and then connected on his only 3-point attempt of the competition at 9:00 to spark the USA machine into motion early in the second period. The five points from Stoudemire were followed by 19 more from the USA, while Puerto Rico managed just four points from the free-throw line. The 24-4 run was capped by an Anthony 3-pointer at 3:45 to bring the U.S. lead to 48-19.
“Well, that 3-point shot, I practice that shot a lot,” Stoudemire said. “You guys might not get to see it a lot, but it is a shot that I feel comfortable shooting. Dwight Howard and I got a chance to expose the zone by playing behind it, and we got a couple of easy baskets and nice interior passes there. There are also some times where the opposing defender won’t want to step out on the perimeter and so that 3-pointer is going to be open.”
The Americans went on to outscore Puerto Rico 35-12 in the second stanza, including 11 points from LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers), and the scoreboard read 59-27 in the USA’s favor at the midway point.
“We wanted to try to play as aggressive as we can on our defensive end,” James said. “That’s not anything against Puerto Rico, it’s against ourselves. We want to try to better ourselves to play as hard as we can.”
The USA and Puerto Rico traded runs in the third period and James recorded 10 more points to reach his final of 21, but neither team improved it’s position as both scored 29 points to bring the score to 88-56 headed into the fourth period. The USA went on to outscore Puerto Rico 29-22 in the fourth period to reach the game’s final of 117-78.
“Well, for us, the game isn’t over, ever,” said Krzyzewski about his team’s big halftime advantage. “There are habits being formed throughout and with the combinations that we are trying, we are always trying to find something new. We worked on our zone again in the second half today. In the first few minutes of the second quarter, we got Deron Williams to play with Kobe and LeBron and Tyson in there, so, you never know what could happen if a guy gets hurt or whatever (could happen). So, we are just constantly trying to use the second half as a practice because you are playing everyday.”
Anthony finished with 17 points; Michael Redd (Milwaukee Bucks) scored 15; Bryant contributed 14 points; and Stoudemire totaled 12 points and eight rebounds. In addition, Deron Williams (Utah Jazz) dished seven assists to go with his eight points; James and Jason Kidd (New Jersey Nets) distributed four assists each; Tyson Chandler (New Orleans Hornets) collected eight rebounds and block four shots; and Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic) contributed nine points and seven rebounds.
While the USA struggled from the free throw line 11-of-23 attempts (.480), it outrebounded Puerto Rico 48-37 and committed just four turnovers while blocking nine shots. The USA also proved too powerful for Puerto Rico, scoring 60 of its points from inside the key.
In today’s other action, Venezuela (1-4) topped Uruguay (2-3) 88-79, Brazil beat Mexico 104-90, and with a 85-70 win over Canada tonight, Argentina also clinched a berth into Saturday’s semifinals.
Next up for the USA is Uruguay on Wednesday, Aug. 29 at 8:00 p.m. (PDT), and the USA will conclude second-round play against Argentina Thursday at 9:00 p.m.
“Uruguay is definitely a team we have to be prepared for, especially after coming off a good win over Puerto Rico tonight,” Prince said. “We can’t let up like we did against Mexico after the win over Brazil. Hopefully we get our energy back up tomorrow, stay focused, and get out of the gate early.”