Bilbao – USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski and many of his players had their focus and imperturbability severely tested after their Group C game yesterday. Not in the game though.
On the court the reigning world champions had rolled past New Zealand 98-71 for their third successive win – putting themselves right at the top of the waiting list to advance to the Round of 16 in Barcelona.
But off the court, it took all their cool to deal in the best way possible with questions forcing them to look beyond the Catalan capital – and at the Finals in the Spanish capital itself. Neither Coach K nor team leader James Harden would have any of it though.
“We are first looking at the teams in our pool,” Krzyzewski answered when asked to look at how hosts Spain were performing in Group A. “We’ll look at them (Spain) when we have to play them. Not now,” the Duke University play-caller said quite categorically.
Harden too was succinct and simple. “We have two more games here and we have things to get into place,” offered the Houston Rockets shooting guard. “No, we don’t think about Spain right now,” said Anthony Davis, who missed a double-double by a single rebound, with 21 points and nine boards against the Tall Blacks.
Davis, along with Harden, is the only other player on the USA team to have won the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, where they beat Spain in the Final. Harden was pleased with the team’s performance yesterday.
“We came off with some good intensity. Especially after the last game the way we struggled (against Turkey on Sunday) in the first half before picking up in the second half. Coach K emphasised how important it was to come off with intensity,” he said.
“It was a good solid performance,” Krzyzewski concurred. “The intensity was excellent. We were against a different offense, which is difficult to defend with big guys. We defended that very well,” he added.
“Quite frankly, we are concentrating on the games we play here. If we (Spain and the USA) advance, we’ll watch a lot of them. But for now we are looking at the game here,” he said.
The USA will finish their Group C campaign with games against the Dominican Republic today and Ukraine tomorrow.
In another Group C game, Ukraine defeated Turkey 64-58. In Group D, It shaped up to be a tense game between two teams desperate to book a trip to Barcelona, but Mexico had other ideas.
After leading Angola by just one point at half-time, 36-35, the FIBA Americas champions put on a 43-20 clinic to claim their first win, 79-55, and put one foot into the knockout rounds in the Catalan capital.
In fact this was Mexico’s first victory in FIBA’s flagship event in more than 40 years, since an 85-84 win over Australia at the 1974 edition of the tournament.
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