You never know when the greatest upset in sports history is going to happen, right? Well, the U.S.-Senegal game today in the FIBA World Championships wasn’t it. And it probably didn’t help ratings that the ESPN2 announcing crew was likening the game to a “scrimmage” for the Americans early in the first quarter.
The U.S. won 103-58 – - I’m wondering if you could have taken Senegal plus 50 points in Vegas – - and Dwyane Wade sat out the last game of pool play. Now comes single-elimination play for the Americans, starting in the round of 16 against Australia at 11 p.m. PDT Saturday night (Sunday afternoon in Japan).
The road to the gold medal game probably will include a quarterfinal game against Germany and a semifinal game against Greece or France. Argentina and Spain, two of the strongest teams in the tournament, are on the other side of the bracket.
Even though Senegal finished winless in five games, I’m sure all of its players will tell their grandkids stories about Thursday’s game. They led the U.S. 13-12 with 4:07 left in the first quarter after Makhtar Ndiaye hit a 3-pointer. No DeSagana Diop, no Boniface Ndong, no Mouhamed Saer Sene, no problem. It also helped that the Americans missed their first seven shots.
Coach K went with a starting lineup of LeBron James/Antawn Jamison/Brad Miller/Joe Johnson/Kirk Hinrich. He brought Carmelo Anthony off the bench one day after Anthony went for 35 against Italy. Sure enough, Anthony connected on two 3-pointers soon after checking in as the U.S. closed out the first quarter on a 14-0 run.
That made it 26-13 after the first quarter, leaving Fran Fraschilla talking about how many practice days the U.S. had left in Japan. I think the U.S. had to actually run an offensive set once in the first half. They had the last shot before halftime and ran Anthony off a couple of screens along the baseline to free him for a 3-pointer on the left side.
Anthony drained the shot and finished with 12 points in 14 minutes – - all on 3-pointers. I thought a couple of the U.S. reserves were going to start shooting the ball with confidence in this game; instead Joe Johnson went 1-for-7 from 3-point range and Hinrich went 1-for-4. That was worrisome to see.
If the Americans are going to win gold, they’re going to have to play a disciplined game. That means making free throws, putting in maximum effort on the defensive end, not giving up offensive rebounds and valuing every possession on offense. And they’re going to have to run at every opportunity to open up these games.
But at least the U.S. got through pool play undefeated. They were playing their third game in three nights Thursday – - something NBA players are not used to. They also have a clear path to the gold-medal game, or so it looks right now.
As far as names you might know on Australia, there’s Andrew Bogut, the No. 1 overall pick by Milwaukee in the 2005 Draft, and Daniel Kickert, a star at St. Mary’s for all the West Coast Conference fans out there.