Aug. 6, 2005
MAR DEL PLATA, ARGENTINA - The 2005 USA U21 World Championship Team (2-0) remained undefeated at the 2005 FIBA U21 World Championship with a hard-earned 103-83 victory over Lithuania (1-1) on Saturday evening in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Leading a balanced scoring attack that saw every member score were Rajon Rondo (Kentucky) and Marcus Williams (Connecticut), who posted 17 points apiece.
Next up for the United States is Puerto Rico (1-1), which put away Slovenia (1-1) 71-50 this evening. The squads will tip-off Aug. 7 at 6:30 p.m. (all times EDT).
"We expected it to be a very hard game to play," said USA and Saint Joseph's University head coach Phil Martelli. "I have tremendous respect for the way that Lithuania was coached and the way that they approach each and every opportunity that they're given. They're highly competitive young guys who are well instructed in the game of basketball. We felt it would be hard-fought since we played them in Dallas."
Despite going up by double digits several times throughout the contest, the United States was unable to shake Lithuania until the game's final minutes.
The U.S. owned a 14-point, 75-61, lead entering the fourth quarter, but Lithuania struck early with a 3-pointer at 9:43 from Arturas Jomantas. Mardy Collins (Temple) countered with a three on the other end, but Lithuania temporarily disrupted the USA's offense and fought back with a 7-point run to close the gap to 78-71 with 8:20 to go in the game. By the 7:44 mark the gap was narrowed to seven, 80-73, following a Steponas Babrauskas basket.
That was as close as the Europeans would get.
"We pushed the lead and started to press, but they started to throw over the top of us and get easy baskets," said Collins. "So coach wanted us to stop and get back. He said that we had a good advantage in our depth, so if they throw it over the top we need to sprint all-out. Not to worry if we get tired, we'll get a substitution."
Justin Gray (Wake Forest) hit his fourth trey of the game, sparking a 9-2 U.S. run and midway through the fourth quarter the United States had re-upped its advantage to 14 points, 89-75. Following a pair of free throws by Lithuania, Taj Gray (Oklahoma) took the ball inside and slammed it home with authority at 4:47. That dunk spurred the USA's offense to a 12-2 run, bookened by another Taj Gray highlight dunk, and at 2:16 the game was safely in hand 101-79. In addition to Taj Gray's four points, Williams provided five points and a steal, while Collins also contributed a 3-pointer in the run. The clock wound down and by the end the USA had secured its second victory in as many days.
"We got a little lax," said Rondo. "They threw somewhat of a different look at us and we weren't ready for it. We settled down, made the right decisions and got the lead back up."
The opening minutes saw seven lead changes and a pair of knotted scores and at 6:45 the U.S. held a 13-11 lead, one it would never relinquish. With the USA owning a 15-11 edge, Lithuania was awarded six straight trips to the line, but, in uncharacteristic fashion shot only 3-of-12, keeping the game close. During that span the USA was able to get one basket, a Taj Gray put-back, and at 2:35 the USA's lead was 17-14. By the end of the quarter the scoreboard read 23-19 in favor of the Americans.
The United States outscored Lithuania 26-21 in the second quarter and the teams retired to the locker room with the U.S. up 49-40. The USA was whistled for 27 infractions, sending Lithuania to the line for 23 attempts in the first half. In addition to getting into foul trouble, Glen Davis (Louisiana State), Taj Gray and Curtis Withers (Charlotte) each were whistled for three, the United States was credited for just four assists on 20 baskets.
The third quarter saw the USA get back into its team game and the squad began to pull away, thanks to a 13-6 run that saw Williams provide the first five points, Justin Gray the next six and Rondo closed the spurt with a jumper at 4:23 with the U.S. ahead 62-46. As was the case the whole game, Lithuania never gave up and managed to cut it to 11, 68-57 at 2:11. However, the USA outscored its foes 7-4 to pad its lead and close the quarter ahead 75-61.
In addition to the 17 points each from Rondo and Williams, Collins scored 14 and Justin Gray contributed 12 on 4-of-8 shooting from 3-point. Gray finished as the game-high rebounder with seven and Rondo again led the field with four steals.
The USA edged Lithuania on the glass (33-31), including 16-11 on the offensive end. The U.S. accounted for 18 steals on 25 Lithuanian turnovers, while only giving up the ball nine times. Lithuania shot 18-of-32 from the line (.563), while the United States shot 75 percent (9-12 FTs) from the stripe. After only passing off for four assists in the first half, the USA finished with 12 on the night.
In other Group B action, Nigeria (1-1) picked up its first win with an 87-81 defeat of China (0-2). In Group A, which is being played in Cordoba, Canada and Australia tip-off at 5:45 p.m., Argentina hosts Greece at 8:00 p.m., while Israel has the night off.
The 2005 FIBA Men's U21 World Championship originally consisted of 12 national teams split into two groups for preliminary round-robin play. However, Iran was unable to secure visas and therefore was forced to forfeit the tournament. The top four teams in each group will still advance to the medal quarterfinals, while the 5th and 6th place finishing teams in Group B and the 5th place team in Group A will compete for 9th-11th place.
Initiated in 1993 as the FIBA 22 & Under World Championship, the USA captured gold in the inaugural tournament with a perfect 8-0 record. In 1997, the Americans compiled a 5-2 record and finished fifth. Most recently in 2001, with the event known as the FIBA World Championship For Young Men and Martelli assisting on the sidelines, the USA was impressive, rolling to an unblemished 8-0 mark to capture gold.
The USA men are not only defending FIBA World Champs at the U21 level, but the U.S. squad last summer dominated its FIBA Americas competition in striking gold with a 5-0 record. Overall, in the three previous FIBA World Championships for this age group, the USA has won gold twice and compiled a 24-2 record through Saturday's game.
For more info, go to www.usabasketball.com.