USA Men's World Championship Team Holds Off Italy 80-75|
July 27, 1998
ROME, Italy - Six-Foot guard Michael Hawkins (Olympiakos, Greece / Xavier '95) found a wide-open David Wood for a critical three that put the United States into the lead for good, then scored the USA's next five points as the Americans rallied in the final 3:23 to claim an 80-75 victory over Italy Saturday night in Rome, Italy. The win was the USA's third in as many exhibition games and the final one before the USA opens play in the World Championship on July 29.
"I thought Michael Hawkins was the key in the game. He made good decisions late in the game. The Italian team did a very good job of changing defenses and I thought he recognized it and made a good pass to David Wood when the game was very close and David Wood made a big shot," said USA and Houston Rockets head coach Rudy Tomjanovich.
"We knew that the Italian team would be our toughest opponent so far and we needed to be tested. Our first two games were one sided and we needed a close game for execution. This is exactly what we needed. In fact I thought it was a wake up call in the first half because in the first two games we had the lead and felt comfortable. But we definitely did not feel comfortable at the half. Also to win any tough tournament, and this will be a tough tournament, you have to be able to make big plays late in the game and this was very good training for us. In practice we simulate those kind of situations but they are not the same as in a game.
"We feel we have to improve game by game. We're getting to know each other better, but we haven't been together for a long time. I thought tonight was a very good experience for us because our players now understand we have to get better."
The U.S. took control of the game early in the second half. Behind five points from Jimmy Oliver (Ciuda De Huelva, Spain / Purdue '91), the Americans broke open a 39-39 tie with a 12-4 run that gave the U.S. a 51-43 advantage with 13:28 to play. Leading 56-49 with 10:24 to go, Italy stormed back and after reeling off nine straight points, tied the game at 58. The two teams swapped leads seven times over the next five minutes and with 3:40 to go Italy was out in front 68-66.
The USA's key closing stretch run was kicked off when Hawkins found 6-foot-9 Wood in the right corner for the go ahead three with 3:23 to play. Then Hawkins, with 2:47 remaining, scored off a drive and competed the three point play by making the free throw after being fouled. Leading 72-68, Hawkins on the USA's following possession added some additional breathing room when he nailed a 10-foot pull-up jumper with 2:12 to push the USA lead to 76-70. Italy closed to within four, 76-72 with 1:06 remaining, but an Oliver three-pointer ended any comeback hopes Italy may have had and the U.S. went on to record the 80-75 victory.
In the first half the two teams battled for control and there were six ties and 12 lead changes and neither team ever led in the opening half by more than four points. The U.S. trailed 32-31 in the first half's closing seconds when Hawkins was fouled on a drive to the basket with just two seconds remaining. Making his first free throw and missing his second, the two teams retired to the locker room tied 32-32.
The USA winning effort was again fueled by a balanced scoring attack in which eight USA players scored between seven and the team high 13 points. Oliver led the offense with 13 points and hit 3-of-5 three-pointers, while Jason Sasser (Sioux Falls Skyforce / Caja San Fernando, Spain / Texas Tech '96) and Wendell Alexis (Alba Berlin, Germany / Syracuse '86) each finished with 11 points, and Alexis added a game high seven rebounds. Italy's Carlton Myers led all scorer with 29 points and was named the game's MVP.
The USA's win may have proven costly when Michigan State junior-to-be injured his left ankle with 12:17 to play in the second half. X-rays later show there was no fracture, but the sprain leaves him questionable for the World Championship. USA team doctors will re-evaluate Cleaves in the morning.
The exhibition against Italy was the third and final scheduled exhibition game in Europe for the USA team during its pre-World Championship training. In its previous two exhibition games in Monte Carlo, the United States' defeated France on July 18, 93-63, Spain on July 19, 95-78.
The U.S. team will train in Rome on July 26, then travels to Athens later that day and will train July 27-28. The 13th FIBA Men's World Championship will be held July 29-August 9 in Athens with teams from 16 countries competing for the gold medal. The United States begins World Championship preliminary round play on July 29 against Brazil, and continues preliminary round play on July 30 versus Lithuania and July 31 against South Korea. Second Round Group play is slated to be conducted August 2-4, with quarterfinals, semifinals and finals action to be held August 7-9.
The USA Team consists of: Wendell Alexis (Alba Berlin, Germany / Syracuse '86); Ashraf Amaya (Idaho Stampede / Southern Illinois '93); Mateen Cleaves (Michigan State '00); Bill Edwards (Virtus Rome, Italy / Wright State '93); Kiwane Garris (Grand Rapids / Illinois '97); Michael Hawkins (Olympiakos, Greece / Xavier '95); Gerard King (Siena, Italy / Nicholls State 96); Jimmy King (Quad City Thunder / Michigan '95); Brad Miller (Purdue '98); Jimmy Oliver (Ciuda De Huelva, Spain / Purdue '91); Jason Sasser (Sioux Falls Skyforce / Caja San Fernando, Spain / Texas Tech '96) and David Wood (Rockford Lightning / Unicaja Malaga, Spain /Nevada Reno '87).
1998 USA MEN'S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM