USA Basketball To Play For Gold

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July 31, 2004

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia - The USA World Championship For Young Men Qualifying Team (4-0) advanced to the gold medal game at the FIBA Americas World Championship For Young Men Qualifying Tournament after putting host Canada (2-2) away in the fourth quarter for an eventual 86-63 win on Saturday night.

Collegiate teammates Justin Gray (Wake Forest / Charlotte, N.C.) and Chris Paul (Wake Forest / Lewisville, N.C.) were deadly from 3-point, converting on a combined 9-of-15 (.600), while scoring 18 and 19 points, respectively. Curtis Withers (Charlotte / Charlotte, N.C.) also had a strong game with 11 points and seven rebounds.

Gonzaga University sophomore Adam Morrison took just two shots, made one and scored two points in 11 minutes. He was averaging 11.5 ppg entering the contest.

The USA will face Puerto Rico (3-1) in Sunday night's 4 p.m. PST gold medal contest. The United States has played in all four gold medal games at this event, earning gold in 1996 and silver in 1993 and 2000, while compiling an overall 19-2 win-loss record overall.

"There was so much at stake. The variable tonight was to play for a gold medal," said USA and University of Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson. "Their kids were hungry, they were physical. In the first half they took it to us. In the second half, we moved our post guys out and told them to meet them at the free throw line and not let them get position in the block. The bottom line was we outrebounded them in the second half 23-11, we were more physical and the best team won the game. I also thought the toughest team won the game and that's what we've been preaching from day one."

"This game was probably the most fun we've played in," said Paul, who had 14 points by halftime and a total of eight assists on the night. "It honestly felt like an away game, just like we play in college. Canada was a lot more physical and the intensity level was so much higher. It was a lot of fun beating them at home."

Puerto Rico (3-1) advanced to the gold medal game by virtue of its 73-67 victory over this tournament's defending champion Argentina (3-1). Brazil (2-2) defeated the Dominican Republic (0-4) 88-78, while Venezuela (1-3) downed the Bahamas (1-3) 82-76. Brazil and Venezuela will play in the 11 a.m. fifth place game and the Dominican Republic and Bahamas play for seventh at 8 a.m.

The USA jumped out to a 9-2 lead to open the game and it looked as if the contest would be a repeat of the USA's 88-54 exhibition victory over Canada on July 25.

However, Canada clawed back and by the end of the first period, which saw Paul score eight points and Gray five, the USA held just a 20-18 edge. P.J. Tucker (Texas / Raleigh, N.C.) and Bracey Wright (Indiana / The Colony, Texas) scored the second stanza's first four points as the U.S. inched out to 24-18 at 8:50.

However, Canada disrupted the USA's offense, causing missed shots and turnovers, while reeling off nine consecutive points in an 11-2 run to take its first lead of the contest, 29-26, with 5:55 to go before half. The U.S. regained the edge, 31-29, following a Hassan Adams (Arizona / Los Angeles, Calif.) layup and a Withers 3-pointer and Canada's Kingsley Costain tied it up at 31-apiece (3:32). Icing any Habs upset hopes, following a David Padgett (Louisville / Reno, Nev.) free throw, Paul netted a back-to-back threes and then found an open Withers inside as the United States began to pull away, 40-31, with 1:14 to go before the half. Canada had a couple of chances to close the gap, but made just 1-of-4 from the line as the half wound down with the U.S. holding onto a 40-32 lead.

The United States, which listed Adams, Padgett and Mustafa Shakur (Arizona / Philadelphia, Pa.) with three fouls apiece at halftime, tried to pull away in the third quarter. However, the Canucks earned 15 of their 21 points in the period from the charity stripe (15-of-19 FTs), while Padgett and Charlie Villanueva (Connecticut / Brooklyn, N.Y.) were whistled for their fourth fouls in the final two minutes of the quarter. By the end of 30 minutes of play the USA held a double-digit 65-53 margin.

"In the third quarter we got caught up with the fouling, arguing with the refs and whatnot," said Villanueva. "But in the fourth quarter we just put that behind us and played our game."

Regrouping during the period break, the United States shook off the third period and went to work. Morrison got a quick steal and found Tucker inside. Fouled on his shot, the Longhorn swooshed both his free throws. The U.S. snatched the ball from Canada again and this time Tucker's shot found its mark with no interference, putting the United States up 69-53 with 9:07 to play. Following a Canadian layin at 8:45, neither team was able to convert on either end over the next 3:07. During that span Adams got a fifth foul (7:07) and left the game. It took over three quarters of the game to pull away, but with 5:38 on the clock Sean May (North Carolina / Bloomington, Ind.) hooked a shot over the head of a defender to spark a 12-0 run. Capped by a pair of Gray 3-pointers, the run blew the game open, 81-55, with 3:24 to play. Virtually assured of the victory, the U.S. settled in for the eventual 86-63 win.

University of Pittsburgh's Levon Kendall posted a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds in Canada's losing effort, while Tristan Blackwood had 11 and Kevin Francis added 10. The U.S. shot 49.2 percent (30-61 FGs) from the field, including a sizzling 50.0 percent (10-20 3pt FGs) from beyond the arc, while limiting the Canadians to 33.3 percent (19-57 FGs) from the field and an ice-cold 5.6 percent (1-18 3pt FGs) from 3-point. However, Canada, which was sent to the line 34 times, scored 24 points from the stripe. The United States, whistled for 30 fouls compared to Canada's 19, outrebounded its neighbors to the north 36-28.



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