No Duncan but no problem for Team USA
By Chris Bernucca SportsTicker Pro Basketball Editor
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - After putting together an awesome foursome, Team USA had a day to bask in the sun, swim in the surf and await its next quartet of games at the FIBA Tournament of the Americas.
Coach Larry Brown gave his players a day off Sunday, one day after the United States (4-0) completed a romp through the first round with a 113-55 destruction of the Virgin Islands. As expected, the U.S. emerged as the top seed in Group B.
Dallas Mavericks forward Eduardo Najera of Mexico and forward Peter Gaurasci of Canada also will get a day off after their rumble in the first half of Canada's 108-72 Group A romp Sunday. Both players were ejected and are expected to be suspended one game - their second-round opener.
"Things like that happen in international basketball," Canada assistant coach Gary Schmidt said. "It's not something I like, though."
Despite stomping on its foes, the U.S. has done its best to avoid starting any international incidents. Taking advantage of its placement in the weaker Group B, the Americans averaged 108 points per game and won by an average of 39.8.
"We take basketball very seriously," New Jersey Nets forward Kenyon Martin said. "We are looking forward to the next games and going out to prove a point. We've proven a point in these first four. Now, we have to continue to do that."
Things clearly should get tougher Monday, when Team USA begins another stretch of four games in four days against Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and a highly anticipated meeting with Argentina, which became the first country to beat a team of NBA players at last year's World Championships.
"Kenyon said it best," Brown said. "They have a lot of respect for Argentina, respect for Puerto Rico. (Dallas All-Star guard) Steve Nash is on Canada and we've played them in the past. We're not looking past anybody."
By not practicing Sunday, Team USA had its first day off since coming together August 10 for training camp in New York.
Najera and Gaurasci both looked like they were coming out of training camp - for wrestling. The melee started late in the second quarter with Canada holding a 52-41 lead.
As Mexico missed a shot, Gaurasci was elbowed by Najera. The players ran upcourt and Gaurasci gave Najera a bump that knocked the NBA player to the floor.
After Canada scored, Najera raced back downcourt and gave Gaurasci a flying forearm tackle as both players went to the floor. In the ensuing scrum, Najera appeared to throw a punch at Gaurasci and put him in a hammer lock before order was restored.
"When we fell to the floor, we hit each other some more," Najera said.
"It got real physical under the basket," Gaurasci said. "I basically lost my composure and lost my cool for a minute there. It was a selfish act on my part. It was completely my fault and I apologize to my team and the Mexican team."
Earlier this month in the Pan Am Games, Gaurasci had a shoving match with Mexico center Horacio Llamas. Najera has a reputation as a physical player in the NBA.
"They were physical but so were we," Najera said. "I hit him various times during the game. Our arms locked but I never tried to hurt him."
Canada (3-1) may have lost the fight, but it easily won the game. Former St. John's player Rowan Barrett, the tournament's leading scorer, did not miss a shot, making 7-of-7 from the field and 10-of-10 from the line for 27 points in just 17 minutes.
Mexico (2-2) tumbled to fourth in the group and could face Team USA on Monday. After the game, Mexico coach Guillermo Vecchio indicated that would be the ideal game for Najera - Mexico's best player - to miss.
Normally, the top seed from one group plays the four seeds from the other group from worst to best as the second round progresses, closing with the opposing group winner. However, there are some territorial issues that could juggle the order of play, which will be finalized Sunday night.
The U.S. is expected to have 10 p.m. EDT starts for each game. Host Puerto Rico, which advanced to the second round from Group A, is permitted to pick the starting times for its games and likely will play every night at 7:30 p.m., as it did in the first round.
Whoever Team USA plays Monday, it expects to have Tim Duncan back in the lineup. The two-time NBA MVP from the champion San Antonio Spurs opted to sit out Saturday's game against the U.S. Virgin Islands, his homeland.
"I've gotta think that he was in a pretty tough situation," Seattle SuperSonics guard Ray Allen said. "I'm glad he didn't play, because at least he showed that he respected them and that he's from the Virgin Islands."
The Americans did not miss Duncan at all, shooting 66 percent (42-of-66) from the field and handing out 38 assists. Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson scored 17 points to lead seven players in double figures.
The U.S. improved to 63-3 in international play when using NBA players. All three of the losses came in last year's World Championships, where the Americans finished sixth.
The final berth in the second round went to Venezuela (1-3), which edged the Virgin Islands, 87-84, in a Group B matchup of winless teams.
Luis Julio's dunk and ensuing free throw snapped an 83-83 tie with 27 seconds to go. Jameel Heywood stole an inbounds pass in the waning seconds, but his potential tying 3-pointer was an airball.
Also joining the U.S. in the second round from Group B are the Dominican Republic (2-1) and Brazil (2-1), who play the final first-round game Sunday night for the group's second seed.
Argentina clinched the top seed in Group A with an 85-80 victory over Puerto Rico, denying Canada a chance at the top spot.
Argentina (3-1) scored 21 of the first 25 points in the second quarter and had a 15-point lead in the fourth before holding off a furious comeback by Puerto Rico, which narrowed the deficit to three.
San Antonio Spurs guard Emanual Ginobili and Ruben Woikowisky each scored 16 points to lead Argentina, which has played well since a first-round loss to Mexico.
The win means Argentina may not have to face the United States until Thursday.
The Virgin Islands (0-4) and Uruguay (0-4) were eliminated.
After the second round, the four teams with the best records advance to the semifinals on Saturday. The semifinal winners assure themselves of Olympic berths and play for the gold medal.
The semifinal losers play for the bronze medal in the tournament's most important game. The winner gets a berth in the 2004 Olympics, while the loser gets nothing.
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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