USA Drops Bronze Medal Game To Puerto Rico

Aug. 6, 2003

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - Displaying a never-say-die attitude, the USA Basketball Men's Pan American Games team (2-3) spent the final 14 minutes of its bronze medal game attempting to chop down a 16-point Puerto Rican lead, only to fall short in a 76-70 loss in the bronze medal game.

Puerto Rico (3-2) claimed the bronze medal with the win on Wednesday evening in the J.P. Duarte Center in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The USA's fourth place finish marked just the second time a U.S. squad has returned from a Pan American Games without a medal.

Gonzaga University's Blake Stepp played just five minutes, going 0-for-1 from the field and grabbing a rebound. For the five games Stepp scored 16 points for a 3.2 average while averaging 14.6 minutes/game. He went 4-for-14 from the field for 34.1 percent, 4-for-12 from 3-point range for 33.3 percent and 4-for-6 from the line for 66.7 percent. He also grabbed 5 rebounds, had 4 assists, 4 turnovers, 2 blocked shots and 1 steal.

"I am most disappointed in how we started the game," said USA Pan American Games and Michigan State University head coach Tom Izzo. "Give our kids some credit because they had some pride and bounced back and never quit. It was too hard to come back from that, especially in the hostile environment."

Trailing 58-42 with 4:19 left in the third quarter, the USA went on a 9-2 run to close out the period behind the scoring of Chuck Hayes (Kentucky / Modesto, Calif.) and Arthur Johnson (Missouri / Detroit, Mich.), who combined for seven of the nine points in the run.

Entering the fourth quarter down 60-51 and coping with the din from an overflow crowd anticipating the start of the gold medal game between Brazil and the homestanding Dominican Republic, the young USA squad seemed able to ignore the activity outside the court boundaries and focus their energy on the comeback attempt.

A 9-4 run sparked by a 3-point field goal and a layup by Ben Gordon (Connecticut / Mt Vernon, N.Y.) sliced the lead to 64-60 after Ike Diogu (Arizona State / Garland, Texas) went up strong with a rebound basket at 3:49. From there, though, Puerto Rico reeled off seven unanswered points to go up 71-62 and forced the USA to foul. The strategy was paying off as Puerto Rico missed 7-of-12 free throw attempts down the stretch, but time ran out before the North Americans could complete the comeback.

The USA trailed by as much as 23 points late in the second quarter, when Carlos Apodaca hit a shot from the right corner to make the score 45-22 with 1:43 left until halftime. Looking at a 48-27 deficit at the half, the USA doubled the Puerto Ricans' scoring output in third quarter scoring, posting 24 points to the opponents 12 to reduce Puerto Rico's advantage to 60-51 at the end of three.

"I am disappointed we didn't bring our country a medal," said Emeka Okafor (Connecticut / Houston, Texas). "However, I am going to go back this season and remember all the things coach Izzo taught us. I had some great times with some great people. I'll never forgot those memories we had."

"It has been a great a learning experience for me as a coach," Izzo added. "I don?t think I?ve ever worked with a better bunch of guys in a tougher situation. They represented their country in a classy fashion and I am proud of them."

The USA was led by Gordon's 12 points and four assists, while Okafor scored 10 points and Hayes added 10 points and nine rebounds. Brandon Mouton (Texas / Lafayette, La.) grabbed a game high 10 rebounds, including six on the offensive end. Puerto Rico's Carlos Arroyo of the Utah Jazz played all 40 minutes and led all scorers with 23 points, followed by Sharif Fajardo with 22 and the Milwaukee Bucks' Daniel Santiago with 12. Santiago had nine rebounds to lead Puerto Rico.

The USA shot a cool 43.3 percent (29-67 FGs), including just 26.7 (4-15 3pt FGs) from 3-point, but outrebounded Puerto Rico by a considerable 42-48 margin.



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