Sasser's 23 Points Leads United States to Bronze|
August 9, 1998
ATHENS, Greece - Behind Jason Sasser's (Sioux Falls Skyforce / Caja San Fernando, Spain / Texas Tech 96) game high 23 points and a USA defense that never let host Greece find its rhythm, the United States (7-2) jumped the host Greeks (5-4) early and stormed to an 84-61 victory to capture the bronze medal at the 13th FIBA Men's World Championship.
The bronze medal was the ninth medal a U.S. team has won in the 13 FIBA World Championships. The U.S. has now won three gold medals (1994, 1986, 1954), three silver (1982, 1959, 1950) and three bronze medals (1998, 1990, 1974), and the USA's record in World Championship play is 91-23 overall.
In the evening's gold medal game, Yugoslavia (8-1) hung on to nip Russia (7-2) 64-62. By virtue of winning the World Championship title, Yugoslavia automatically earned a qualifying spot for the 2000 Olympics, joining Australia, which qualified automatically as the host country. The USA will have to qualify for the 2000 Olympics by finishing among the top two teams at the 1999 Americas Zone Olympic Qualifying Tournament that is slated to be held in July (exact dates to be determined) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Based on FIBA's qualifying formula for the 2000 Olympics, in addition to the two teams that have already qualified, the remaining 10 Olympic men's basketball qualifying spots will be allocated as follows: the European zone will qualify five additional teams, the Americas Zone will send two, and the Africa, Asia and Oceania zones will each send one team.
"A month ago when we were trying to put a team together, no one gave us much of a chance to win anything here," said USA head coach Rudy Tomjanovich. "To beat a very good Greek team on the Greek court, I couldn't be more proud of this team.
"Our defense was tremendous right from the beginning and we never let them get their rhythm. We tried a couple of different things and we knew we had to run them. I give credit to my team for setting the tempo of this game."
Greece led 6-4 early, but behind seven points from Sasser, the United States reeled off 15 straight points to take command 19-6 with the contest just eight minutes old. Greece, which made just two of its first 11 shots, continued to have shooting woes and the U.S. took full advantage of their misses to get its running game going. With 6:45 still to play in the first half, the U.S. had pushed its lead to 20 points, 32-12, and by halftime, the U.S. had taken the partisan crowd of the game and was in charge 48-27.
Greece made just 26.6 percent (8-30 FGs, 3-11 3pt FGs) of its shots in the first half, while the Americans sank 60.7 percent (17-28 FGs) of its tries and held a 23 to 14 advantage on the glass.
Greece was only able to cut the USA lead to 18 in the second half and the Americans went on to lead by as many as 34 before coasting in for the 84-61 victory.
"This was a great opportunity. We came over here with high expectations of winning the gold medal. We won the bronze, I know the guys were down (after losing to Russia 66-64 in Saturday's semifinals), but this makes it better; to at least walk away with a medal," commented Sasser. "I felt comfortable right from the start tonight. I wanted to come out and play aggressive, and my teammates did a great job of getting me the ball and helping me get open."
All 12 USA players scored in the contest, and in addition to Sasser's 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, Jimmy King (Quad City Thunder / Michigan 95) added 14 points (7-8 FGs) and Wendell Alexis (Alba Berlin, Germany / Syracuse 86) finished with 12 points. Ashraf Amaya (Idaho Stampede / Southern Illinois 93) led the U.S. rebounding dominance, grabbing seven, and point guard Michael Hawkins finished with a game best five assists.
The U.S. shot 51.6 percent (31-60 FGs, 7-18 3-pt FGs), while Greece never got on track and managed to hit just 36.4 percent (20-55 FGs). The U.S. outrebounded Greece 43 to 27.
In the 5th/6th place final, Spain's (7-2) Alberto Herreros converted two free throws with 4.3 seconds left to help seal a 64-61 victory over Italy (5-4). In the 7th/ 8th place contest, Lithuania (5-4), led by Gintaras Einikis' 18 points, held off Argentina (3-6) 77-76 to earn seventh place.
1998 FIBA MEN'S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP