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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Team USA Rolls Into Quarterfinals With a 113-73 Win Over Australia

Team USA defeated Australia 113-73 in the second round of the FIBA World Championships and will face Dirk Nowitzki and Germany in the quarterfinals. Although Team USA won easily and was never threatened after the midway portion of the second quarter, the Americans once again got off to a very slow start. Andrew Bogut of the Milwaukee Bucks scored nine points in the first five minutes of the first quarter as Australia took a 15-14 lead after his three pointer at the 5:08 mark. The momentum of the game shifted when Dwyane Wade checked in to the contest with 4:45 remaining in the first period. The 2006 NBA Finals MVP has willingly accepted the sixth man role on Team USA--indeed, he volunteered for it--but with the starters consistently playing lackadaisically early in the game it might be time to move him into the starting lineup. Then again, the end result was a 40 point blowout, so Coach Krzyzewski may see no reason to change things at this point.

After Wade entered the game, Carmelo Anthony split a pair of free throws to tie the score at 15. Australia briefly recaptured the lead when a Brad Newley three pointer made the score 18-17 but Wade answered with four quick points and Team USA never trailed again. Each team scored on a dunk before Wade converted a layup and made a gorgeous pass to Elton Brand that resulted in a dunk and a 27-23 U.S. lead at the end of the quarter. In less than five minutes of on court time, Wade scored six points and the U.S. went from down one to up four.

Australia completely ran out of gas in the second quarter, failing to make a shot from the field until the 2:50 mark. By that time, Team USA led 46-26. Bogut picked up his third foul in the period (five fouls lead to disqualification in FIBA play), as did Australia's other top player, C.J. Bruton. The U.S. outscored Australia 32-6 in the second quarter and led 59-29 at halftime. Some key statistics illustrate Team USA's first half dominance: they shot 7-9 from three point range and committed only two turnovers while forcing 11 turnovers. Australia relies heavily on three point shooting but shot only 4-13 from long range, with all of the makes coming in the first six minutes of the first period.

Australia never made a serious run in the second half, enabling Krzyzewski to once again provide some minutes for guys like Chris Bosh and Brad Miller. Anthony led Team USA with 20 points, Johnson finished with 18 and Wade had 15. Bosh contributed 12 points, while LeBron James managed only five, although he did make several excellent passes. Bogut paced Australia with 20 points but after he scored nine points in the first five minutes of the game he did not score again until the opening moments of the second half, by which time Australia trailed by 30.

Although Team USA won handily, in the opening minutes of the game Australia repeatedly burned Team USA with dribble penetration and by draining open three pointers. If Team USA plays that poorly against Argentina or Spain then they will be down by ten points or more very quickly. Maybe it seems strange to critique Team USA after such a decisive win but the simple fact is that teams like Italy, Slovenia and Australia have revealed the chinks in Team USA's armor: Team USA struggles to defend against the three point shot, can be attacked with dribble penetration and is much better at scoring in transition than in a half court offense. Those three teams do not have enough depth to take advantage of these things for an entire 40 minute game but they have provided a blueprint for beating Team USA that can be applied by teams that have more depth and experience.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:33 AM

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