USA Downs Australia|
August 4, 1998
ATHENS, Greece - In a game the USA needed to win to earn a number one seed for the quarterfinals, and a game Australia needed just to advance to the medal round quarterfinals, Rudy Tomjanovich's USA team clicked on all cylinders Tuesday night and the USA roared past Australia (3-3) 96-78. The win improved the USA squad's record to 5-1 and earned the Americans the Group F number one seed in Friday's quarterfinals and the right to take on Italy (4-2), the number four seed from Group E. The loss eliminated Australia (3-3) from the medal hunt.
Posting its most impressive showing to date at the World Championship, the U.S. attack featured five players scoring in double figures, led by Jimmy Oliver's 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, including 3-of-3 from three-point range. Jason Sasser added 15 points and equaled a team high with seven rebounds, while Jimmy King scored 14 points, Wendell Alexis had 13 points (5-7 FGs, 3-3 3pt FGs), and Kiwane Garris contributed 11 points.
"We came out focused, we understood what this game was all about, we either get first or go all the way to four, but we knew we were playing a team that was in a do or die situation and I can't tell you how pleased I was with our response," said USA head coach Rudy Tomjanovich. "I would have been happy to have just won this game, but the way we did it I thought we did it with class, strong defense, being unselfish on offense which we didn't do in our last game on the offensive end, so we learned a lesson and became a better team and now we have to keep growing as a team.
"Our guards created situations with their penetration and we moved the ball around and got it to the open man and we have been shooting the ball real well in this tournament."
There was no stopping the U.S. offense in the first half as nine players scored and the U.S. shot 63.9 percent (23-36 FGs) from the field and 6-of-9 from three-point. Holding a 15-12 lead with 12:29 to play in the opening stanza, the U.S. went on a 22-5 run to take command 37-17 with 6:04 remaining before half. The USA put an exclamation point on its impressive first half when Oliver drained a three-pointer from the corner at the buzzer to send the Americans to the locker room owning a commanding 54-29 lead. As hot as the United States was from the floor in the first half, Australia was cold, making 37.8 percent of its first half shots.
Australia scored the first five points of the second half to cut the deficit to 54-34, but the U.S. reeled off seven straight points to regain control and Australia never really threatened as the USA went on to lead by as many as 30 points before finally settling for the 18-point win.
The USA finished the game with impressive statistics. Shooting 61.2 percent from the field overall, the USA continued its strong three-point shooting making 66.7 percent (8-12 3pt FGs) of its tries. The U.S. outrebounded Australia 39 to 24, and Australia ended up shooting 47.5 percent (29-61 FGs) from the field.
Group F second round play concluded Tuesday with Spain (5-1) edging Lithuania (4-2) in overtime 86-80, and Argentina (3-3) beating Brazil (1-5) 86-76. In Group E action, Russia (5-1) defeated Canada (1-5) 81-72, Italy (4-2) held off Puerto Rico (2-4) 68-63, and Yugoslavia (5-1) handed host Greece (4-2) its second loss in as many nights 70-56.
All teams will enjoy two days off before resuming play with the medal quarterfinals play on August 7. Friday's quarterfinals schedule calls for Yugoslavia to face Argentina, the USA plays Italy, Russia meets Lithuania and Spain clashes with host Greece. The four winners of the quarterfinals contests will advance to the medal semifinals play that will be conducted August 8. Finals will be held August 9.
ESPN2 will televise the USA's quarterfinal game, and could also televise the USA semifinals contest if the U.S. wins its quarterfinal match and advances into the medal semifinals. ESPN2 is also slated to televise the gold medal game if the U.S. advances.
"Everyone is welcoming a very needed rest day tomorrow (Wednesday), then we're going to go back to work and we'll have a good hard practice and get ready for the medal round. To me the number one seed after you match up with the team means nothing after that. We've dealt with this in the NBA where you play teams that you have beaten during the regular season and it means nothing. This is going to be the biggest game of the tournament for us because if you loose you cannot win a medal, so our guys have got to be focused. They (Italy) did play us a great exhibition game that was decided in the last couple of minutes so that's good as far as our respect for this team," added Tomjanovich.
"I'm very happy with the way we have performed, but mentally we have to stay hungry and humble. That's the only way we can do it. If we start thinking that we can just take the floor and win games, that isn't going to happen."