Stepp Bucket Propels USA Basketball
Aug. 3, 2003
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - Gonzaga University senior Blake Stepp broke a 74-74 tie with 1:20 to play Saturday as USA Basketball opened the 2003 Pan American Games tournament in dramatic fashion, scoring a thrilling come-from-behind 80-79 victory over favorite Argentina in the J.P. Duarte Center here.
Chuck Hayes (Kentucky/Modesto, Calif.) paced the American scoring attack with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
"That was a huge victory for us because it gives us confidence that we can play in the international arena,"said USA head coach Tom Izzo (Michigan State University). "We've only practiced for 10 days, and most of these kids have never played together before. That's not an excuse, but it is difficult to come together and develop a team chemistry in that short amount of time."
Paolo Quintersos made the first of two free throws at 2:17 to tie it at 74, then Stepp, a native of Eugene, Ore., drilled a 25-foot 3-pointer from the right side of the key to give the USA a lead it would not relinquish.
Stepp finished 2-for-4 from the field, 2-for-3 from 3-point range, 1-for-2 from the line and had 7 points and 1 block in 17 minutes of action off the bench.
Roman Gonzalez, Argentina's massive 6-10 center, scored underneath with eight seconds left, then Hayes gave the USA the slim insurance it would need for the win by making the second of two free throws with 0:05 on the clock. Diego Guiata hit a 3-pointer from the left wing as time expired for the final margin.
After building as much as a six point lead in the first quarter, the USA went exactly six minutes without a field goal in the second period, scoring only three free throws between a 3-pointer by Andre Barrett (Seton Hall/Bronx, N.Y.) at 8:07 and a hard earned basket underneath by Ike Diogu (Arizona State/Garland, Texas) at 2:07. Meanwhile, Argentina reeled off 12 points, logging 8-of-12 free throws during the stretch on the way to a 44-40 halftime advantage.
The third quarter saw the USA fight back for its first lead since Barrett's second-quarter trey when Diogu scored six points during an 11-5 USA run that put the Americans up 59-57 at the end of the third period.
The USA held a 61-60 lead after a Hayes tip-in early in the fourth when Argentina broke back on top with a rare four-point play. Bruno Lavaque hit a 3-pointer from the left wing as was fouled and after he converted the free throw Argentina had a 64-61 lead. Lavaque's four-pint play started an 11-2 run by Argentina and with 5:37 left the Argentines has moved out ahead 71-63. Hayes started the U.S. bakc on the comeback trail with a pair of baskets, then Rickey Paulding (Missouri/Detroit, Mich.) hit a 3-pointer, and after Hayes nailed a pair of free throws, the USA was back on top 74-73 lead with 2:50 left.
"I really wanted to get us going in the fourth quarter," said Hayes. "I think Rickey (Paulding) brought us a bunch of energy, and I tried to add to that."
While Hayes led the USA with 17 points, Emeka Okafor (Connecticut/Houston, Texas) added13. Diogu finished with 11 points and added a USA best eight rebounds. Gonzalez led all scorers with 22 points.
Both teams shots reasonably well, the U.S. sank 49.2 percent (31-62 FGs) of its shots overall including 6-of-13 from behind the 3-point line, while Argentina shot a warmer 52.9 percent (27-51 FGs), and was 8-for-19 from 3-point. Both team's shot poorly from the foul line, the U.S. converted on just 12-of-24 free throws, while Argentina made 17-of-32 tries. The USA held a slim 32-30 advantage on the glass, and the Americans turned the ball over just 11 times, seven less than Argentina's 18.
The USA's next game is Sunday at 7 p.m. EDT against 1-0 Puerto Rico, which defeated Uruguay (0-1) 89-72 Saturday afternoon. In the day's other action, Brazil (1-0) upended Canada (0-1) 92-78, and the host Dominican Republic (1-0) in the night cap toppled Mexico (0-1) 72-67.
The complete boxscore can be viewed at http://www.usabasketball.com/men/03_mpag_box1.htm.
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