USA Basketball wins Olympic Qualifying gold
With a trip to the 2004 Olympics already assured by Saturday’s semifinal win, the USA turned its attention to completing some unfinished business-- winning the gold medal and finishing with spotless 10-0 overall record. Thanks to 23 points from Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) and some inspired team play, the United States (10-0 overall) romped over Argentina (6-4 overall) 106-73 Sunday night in the gold medal game of the FIBA Americas Men’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament gold medal game.
In Sunday’s bronze medal game, Puerto Rico stormed out early and cruised in for a 79-66 win over Canada to earn the third and final Olympic qualifying berth.
The USA victory was its second of the tournament over Argentina, the team that snapped the U.S. senior team’s 58-game win streak last Sept 4 in the FIBA World Championship in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The suspense was gone in this game early. Never trailing in the game, the U.S., behind 10 points from Duncan, sprinted out to a 20-11 lead. Leading 20-15 with 3:26 remaining in the first quarter, the U.S. poured in 21 consecutive points to take full charge, 41-15. The U.S. went on to lead by as many as 34 points in the second quarter, grabbing a 53-19 lead. At half, the U.S. had already scored 60 points and was way out in front, 60-27.
The U.S. made 62.5 percent (25-40 FGs) of its shots in the opening half, outrebounded Argentina 25-13, while forcing the Argentines to shoot just 35.3 percent (12-34 3pt FGs) from the floor, while forcing 11 first half turnovers. Argentina, which normally makes a living at the 3-point line, didn’t make its first three until the 4:34 mark of the second quarter and was able to hit just 2-of-10 3-pointers in the half.
Going on to lead by as many as 41 in the third quarter, the U.S. settled for the 106-73 win.
“I don’t know of a team that I’ve ever been involved with that has played any better than this team did,” said USA head coach Larry Brown, who will also serve as head mentor of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team.
“This is a team game. The hardest thing is we have so many great players that they all had to make a big sacrifice and I think they all did that. That was what was so neat about tonight. To watch that display, if you’re a basketball fan, I don’t know how you couldn’t appreciate that,” Brown added.
Duncan and USA frontcourt mate Jermaine O’Neal (Indiana Pacers) were both named to the five-member all tournament team, joining Canada’s Steve Nash, and Argentina’s Adres Nocioni and Emanuel Ginobili. Nash was voted the tournament’s Most Valuable Player by the media.
Duncan, in 22 minutes of game time, hit 11-of-15 shots en route to his game high 23 points, and added 14 rebounds, six offensive, three assists, one block and one steal.
"We didn't expect it to be easy. We didn't expect it to be that way,” remarked Duncan. “We got some offensive rebounds early and we took a lot of the wind out of them. Even when we missed shots, we got put-backs. Defensively, people weren't getting through screens and getting layups like they did the last time we played them. We were ready for that.
“Offensive rebounds were a key, too. We pounded the glass and got second shots. Even when they got stops, we found a way to get it back up there. We had the kind of energy and intensity that we needed."
Also aiding the USA were Ray Allen (Seattle SuperSonics) with 13 points, while Vince Carter (Toronto Raptors), Tracy McGrady (Orlando Magic) and O’Neal scored 12 points each, Mike Bibby (Sacramento Kings) added 11 points and seven assists.
The United States shot 58.9 percent from the field for the night and outrebounded Argentina 43-30, with 19 of those coming on the offensive end.
“We had an interesting meeting at our film session,” stated Brown about the team’s meeting Sunday morning. “We talked about what we had to do and what we were trying to accomplish when we got together. Pop (assistant coach Gregg Popovich) said some really neat things based on his experience, and Elton (Brand) and Jermaine (O’Neal) did as well. They just showed us what they’re made of and what they’re about. It was really pretty neat.
“Pop told them how much respect he had for Argentina and he kind of shared what happened with the team last summer (losing in the World Championship). We just said if we came out and didn’t share the ball and defend and execute like we tried to do from day one, it was going to be difficult. They did everything we asked them to do and more. I can’t imagine anybody playing any better than that team did. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of anything like that.”
The win increased the USA’s Olympic qualifying win streak to 26 games, and improved the overall record of the USA senior teams comprised of NBA players to 69-3 (.958 winning percentage).
The USA, gold medalists in 12 of the 14 Olympics in which it has played, including the last three when NBA players have participated (1992, 1996, 2000), has compiled in Olympic play a sensational record of 109 wins and just two losses.
Five teams are now qualified for the 2004 Summer Games, host Greece, 2002 World Champion Serbia & Montenegro (the former Yugoslavia), Angola from the Africa zone, and the USA, Argentina and Puerto Rico from the Americas. Three Olympic qualifying spots will be determined at the Sept. 5-14 European Championship, while two teams will earn berths from the Oceania zone and one more will qualify from Asia.