By: Jeffrey Newholm
Carmelo Anthony led the team with 31 points, Kyrie Irving chipped in with three key free throws late and the US hung on to defeat Australia, 98-88 Wednesday night. It was expected to be a tighter affair than America’s earlier contests, and when Australia took a five point lead into the break, the game was cause for genuine alarm for fans in the states. US clearly kicked up the intensity in the second half, but the game still wasn’t decided until Paul George’s key save in the final seconds. In the end team US could take a sigh of relief, but the chinks in the American armor were plain for the wider basketball world to see.
While Kevin Durant flaunted his skills against lesser foes, he struggled against the tougher Aussies, shooting only four of sixteen from the field. The only thing keeping team US in the game was Anthony’s sure stroke. During the first half Anthony passed Lebron James to become the all-time leading scorer in US Olympic annals. Despite a 21-8 edge on the offensive boards, America’s team slumped to 39% shooting, paling in comparison to Australia’s 50%. The second half became almost absurd as team US tracked down an endless litany of misses, only to inevitably miss once more. Were it not for Anthony and Irving’s solid play in the final quarter, Australia may have walked away with more than a moral victory.
Many bravado-filled fans will surely chalk this game up as a wake-up call. But I found last night’s game to be of genuine concern. Even going back to exhibition play, cold shooting spells have plagued this team. Against Australia, US had the physical skills to get plenty of second chances. But poor shooting may not be a problem correctable with a Coach K lecture. Honestly the team looked to be giving 110% effort after halftime and still never fully shook their talented foe. The inviting path to gold is still in plain view for America’s team. But this game demonstrated that that road is not a cakewalk. This team will have to endure some legitimate tests if they want to aptly represent the red, white, and blue.
US-Serbia Women’s recap
Earlier in the day, the US women’s team cruised to a fairly easy win against Serbia 110-84 behind a record performance by Diana Taurasi. After besting Spain by 40, most supposed Serbia would prove to be an even bigger pushover. But behind hot three point shooting and a bothersome press, Serbia proved to be a more frustrating foe to vanquish. But again Taurasi came through with wicked downtown shooting, nailing five treys in the first half and adding a record sixth in the second half for good measure. Fellow Uconn alums Breanna Stewart and Tina Charles added 17 and 15 points, respectively, as the US topped the century mark for the third straight game.
A 26 point rout would satisfy many coaches, but perfectionist US manager Geno Auriemma probably wasn’t pleased. One concern was his team allowing Serbia 26 visits to the charity stripe. US’s strategy to foil aggressive Serb drives was to reach in and hack. With women’s basketball teams generally being good free-throw shooting teams, it would serve the team well to use better defensive tactics. America also committed 20 turnovers, many of them resulting from inattentive play. In short, Taurasi was more than willing to be the hero against a winless Serbia team, but team US will need to return to crisper team-oriented play to record favorable results against more talented opposition.
Although both US teams won yesterday, it was more a day of survival than dominance. For the men, Australia served rude notice that US is not invincible, and its players must play their best to claim yet another gold. For the women, the Serbs served as a reminder that America will get every team’s best shot. A lapse of concentration, even against a weaker foe, could quickly bode poorly for the world’s most talented team. Wednesday was a successful day for American basketball, but also one that served as a reminder that gold is something that’s earned rather than handed out for free.
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