Stepp Scores 6 Points As USA Basketball Falls
Aug. 3, 2003
SANTO DOMINGO, Domican Republic - In its second wild ride in as many nights, the 2003 USA Basketball Men's Pan American Games Team (1-1)saw an Andre Barrett (Seton Hall / Bronx, N.Y.) baseline jumper rim out after the horn sounded to find itself on the short end of an 86-85 score against Puerto Rico (2-0) at the J.P. Duarte Center in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sunday evening.
The loss drops the United States to 1-1 in the tournament and makes Monday's match-up with Uruguay (1-1) a must-win to keep medal hopes alive for the young American team. The Uruguay team hit Argentina (0-2), a pre-tournament favorite, with its second upset in as many nights with an 84-81 win earlier Sunday. The USA and Uruguay meet Monday afternoon at noon PDT.
Gonzaga University's Blake Stepp scored 6 points, grabbed a pair of rebounds and had two assists in 18 minutes off the bench. Stepp was 2-for-5 from the field, all his attempts from 3-point range. He scored 7 points in the U.S. win over Argentina on Saturday, his trey with 1:20 remaining breaking a 74-74 tie and giving the Americans the lead for good.
"We were trying to get into our offense,"said Barrett of the final play. "They were denying the entry pass, so I had go to the basket. I got a good look, I just missed the shot."
"That was not the shot that cost us the game," said head coach Tom Izzo (Michigan State University). "We didn't do the little things late in the fourth quarter, like getting to loose balls and blocking out. Puerto Rico turned it up defensively. Our guys played hard, but I think we got tired. We got into foul trouble. We had two key turnovers that turned into three-point plays, and that shifted the momentum. Puerto Rico turned up the intensity and pressure. We just did not respond."
Puerto Rico's big man, David Santiago of the Milwaukee Bucks, went to the bench with his third personal foul at 9:37 in the third period and the USA leading 50-45. The Americans then began to work inside, using two baskets from Arthur Johnson (Missouri / Detroit, Mich.) and a three-point play by Barrett to build its largest lead of the game, 64-55, with 3:46 left in the third quarter. That's when Santiago's replacement, Sharif Fajardo, and Carlos Arroyo of the Utah Jazz went to work, combining to build a 13-4 run to tie the score at 68 by the end of the period.
The fourth quarter saw Arroyo contribute six points and Fajardo a 3-point goal in another 13-4 run that put Puerto Rico up by nine, 81-72, with 6:28 remaining. The USA continued to push the ball down low and cobbled together an answering run behind scoring in the paint from Brandon Mouton (Texas / Lafayette, La.), a pair of buckets from Ben Gordon (Connecticut / Mt. Vernon, N.Y.), Chuck Hayes (Kentucky / Modesto, Calif.) and Emeka Okafor (Connecticut / Houston, Texas) to close to within one, 83-82, with 2:59 left in the game. The final USA basket in that run came on an Okafor hook shot over Santiago, who had returned to the game just as the USA began its final run.
Okafor fouled out of the game trying to keep Santiago from the basket with 2:05 showing. Santiago hit one of the two free throws awarded then, and Fajardo was credited with a basket due to cylinder interference with 1:16 left to make the score 86-82. Mouton scored the final three USA points on a free throw at 1:02, then a basket underneath at the end of a wild scramble with 18 seconds left. Two missed free throws by Dalmau with 16 seconds left set the stage for the thrilling finish, which found Barrett with the ball along the left baseline for a good look from 18 feet. The shot rimmed out after the horn expired, keeping Puerto Rico undefeated in two games and evening the USA's mark at 1-1.
"It's disappointing when we were up nine, then turn around and lose," stated Izzo. "We had a lead last night as well, and we were able to hold on at the end. On the bright side, we're getting experience in close games.
"A couple of good things came out of tonight," Izzo added. "I thought when the ball went inside, we scored well. Mouton played a lot of minutes with Rickey (Paulding) out. I thought Andre shot well and did a great job in transition. You can't afford to have let-downs when you're playing for a championship. Tomorrow will be huge for us."
The USA was led in scoring by Barrett's 16 points, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range. Johnson contributed 15 points and eight rebounds, which was team high. Okafor had 11 points in only 13 minutes of play, while Ike Diogu (Arizona State / Garland, Texas) had 10 points. Arroyo led all scorers with 24, while Fajardo and Santiago scored 19 and 12 points, respectively.
The complete boxscore can be seen at http://www.usabasketball.com/men/03_mpag_box2.html.
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