Friday, July 1, 2011

FIBA U19 World Championship -- USA Beats Serbia, Grabs Lead in Group D Play

Taking Charge of Group D
Team USA thwarted a second half comeback by Team Serbia to squeeze out a two point win, 80-78, and take control of Group D play on the second day of preliminary pool play. With 0:48 left in period four, Tim Hardaway of Michigan hit a jumper to break a 78 point deadlock and give the USA win number two in group play. Serb point guard Aleksandar Cvetkovic led all scorers with 20 points on 6-12 (1-4, 5-7) shooting from the field and 7-9 shooting from the line. Memphis guard Joe Jackson paced Team USA with 19 points on 6-12 (0-1, 6-11) shooting with another 7-7 from the line. Three other Americans, Patric Young of Florida (13 points), Tony Mitchell of North Texas (11 points) and Hardaway, who scored the game winner, (11 points) logged double digit points. Jeremy Lamb of Connecticut, Doug McDermott of Creighton and Patric Young all grabbed game-high seven rebounds.

On the game's first possession Villanova's wing James Bell intercepted a Serb pass and fed Joe Jackson for an easy two to open the scoring at 2-0, USA. The two teams traded leads and ties for the next three minutes before Team USA broke on top and managed, despite a Serb rally and fourth tie of the period, to take a four point lead into the second period. Adding another three points to their 21-17 first period lead, the USA took a 38-31 lead into the locker room at the half. Team Serbia stormed back in the third period, slicing Team USA's lead back to four, 57-53, as the third period wound down. Team USA ceded another two points as they lost the fourth quarter, 23-25, to end the game with an 80-78 edge. Crunching the game boxscore to develop some possession-based stats for the game...


The winning margin derived from field goal attempts, the USA out "attempted" Serbia 63-55, converting three more opportunities (27 vs. 24) than the Serbs. Team Serbia had their chances, especially at the charity stripe, where they had six more attempts than Team USA. But with 25 free throw conversions apiece, the line proved a wash, leaving Serbia's Cvetkovic with a desparation three with four ticks left. Board domination, especially on offense, proved the difference in field goal attempts. While five players, Jackson (31.9%), Hardaway (26%), Lamb (24%), Meyers Leornard (24%) and Young (21%) took most of the shots when each was on the floor, Jackson (50 eFG%), Meyers (66.7 eFG%) and Young (100 eFG%) converted efficiently enough to keep the offense above water. Team USA has to feel good about their standings right now (certainly better than anyone else in Group D tonight), as they have almost certainly (barring a scoring catastrophe tomorrow) punched their ticket to second round preliminary play in Group F. The question is whether they can enter Group F play undefeated (an advantage for medal round consideration)...

Pools of Immediate Interest
Groups C & D standings with one game left to play in day two...

Group C Group D
South Korea02China02

Team China stumbled a second time, losing to Team Egypt by a close four point margin, 100-96 in other Group D action. That outcome is a bit surprising, and will set up an interesting third day of competition in Group D. Team China, if FIBA tie-breaking procedures from 2010 World Championships hold here, have already been eliminated from Group F play, even though they face Team USA tomorrow. Though both Serbia and Egypt will advance (again assuming the point differential versus competition is applied in Latvia), clearly the winner will be in a better position for advancement into the medal round. The Lithuanian U19 team sent Korea o the classification round with a resounding 117-64 win earlier. The Lithuanians will advance to Group F (and a rematch with Team USA) over the weekend, but long term opportunities will hinge on their match-up with Team Canada tomorrow. Today's Team Croatia versus Team Canada game will be worth following, as a Canadian win could set up a knotted group of Group C teams going into the next round; Canada will play Lithuania tomorrow. Crotia holds a 1-0 advantage over Canada in FIBA tournaments, having beaten the Canadians by six (83-77) in 2009. The Canadians and Lithuanians are 1-1 in FIBA tournaments going back to 2007.

Bell Tones
Villanova rising sophomore James Bell started his second game of the tournament and played 26 minutes, scoring four points on 1-5 (0-0, 1-5) shooting from the field and 2-2 from the line. Bell snagged two (defensive) rebounds and two steals for Team USA. Ironically Bell's two steals came very early -- on the first Serb possession of the game -- and very late. Playing the fourth period with four fouls Bell intercepted an Aleksandar Cvetkovic pass with 0:44 on the clock, killing the Serb possession. Though the ball was turned back over 20 seconds later, the Serbs were only able to get one more shot, a missed three by Cvetkovic, as the clock wound down.

Who's Got Next?
Team USA will face off against China tomorrow at 6:15pm local time (11:15 EDST) in Liepaja, Latvia. Team China will play in the first round of classifications (places #13-#16), but Team USA should not take the Chinese lightly. They lost to Serbia by only five, and should morale not be a problem, are in a position to lay an unpleasant surprise on USA's U19'ers if they are taken too lightly. The key would be a big first period lead -- by either squad. If Team USA has a double digit lead, expect Coach Hewitt to rest players in periods three and four. If the game is close (or Team USA is down), Hewitt may be forced to keep his starters on the floor, much like the Serbia game today, longer than he would like. Team USA holds a 5-1 advantage in head-to-head competitions with Team China going back to 1997.

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