Team USA earns spot in FIBA tournament semifinals

Updated: August 27, 2003, 12:12 PM ET

By Chris Bernucca SportsTicker Pro Basketball Editor

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Team USA already has clinched a berth in the semifinals, but still has two more second-round games over the next two days at the FIBA Tournament of the Americas.

The Americans must go the rest of the way without Orlando Magic swingman Tracy McGrady, the NBA scoring champion whose chronically sprained back again is giving him trouble. McGrady led the team in scoring in the preliminary round with 14.5 points per game, but missed the two second-round games.

Team USA (5-0), the lone unbeaten team in the tournament, plays Mexico (2-3) Wednesday night and finishes second-round play on Thursday against Puerto Rico (3-2).

The semifinals will be on Saturday. Team USA and Argentina (3-2) are almost certain to have a rematch in the semifinals in what is becoming one of the best rivalries in international basketball.

"That's a very, very good basketball team, and I think if we have to play them again it will be a great game," said Team USA coach Larry Brown.

Redeeming himself and Team USA for last year's historic loss to Argentina, Jermaine O'Neal had 22 points, 10 rebounds and one huge blocked shot down the stretch in a hotly contested 94-86 victory on Tuesday.

O'Neal and Elton Brand are the two players on Team USA who were members of last year's squad, which finished an embarrassing sixth at the World Championships in Indianapolis, losing three times.

The road to ruin was paved by Argentina, which led from start to finish in an 87-80 win that was the first by an opposing country against NBA players in international competition.

The setback was particularly galling for O'Neal, the All-Star forward of the Indiana Pacers. Leading up to this tournament, he said he was out for revenge and that the rematch with the Argentines was something he would take personally.

"My goal now, my redemption, is getting a gold medal in the Olympics," O'Neal said.

In the closing minutes, O'Neal showed how serious he is about reaching his goal. With Team USA clinging to an 87-83 lead, he came off his man and soared above the backboard square to block a driving layup by Argentina's Fabricio Oberto that could have made it a two-point game with just under two minutes left.

It was the only miss by Oberto, who made 8-of-9 shots for 17 points. The block triggered a fast break that Vince Carter hammered home for an 89-83 advantage, and Team USA held on.

For the first time in this tournament, Team USA was pushed for an entire game. But it pushed back, ending Argentina's four-game winning streak.

Tim Duncan played through foul trouble to contribute 19 points and nine rebounds for Team USA. Allen Iverson cooled off from Monday's phenomenal performance but added 13 points, including a huge 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.

Foul-plagued Andres Noccioni and San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili each scored 16 points for Argentina, which never led in the fourth quarter.

"The game that has pressure is (the semifinals) Saturday," Ginobili said. "That's the ticket to Athens."

Mexico is coming off a 98-95 loss to Venezuela (1-4) on Tuesday.

The Mexicans got back Dallas Mavericks forward Eduardo Najera, who was suspended by FIBA for Monday's win over the Dominican Republic. Najera had 27 points and 14 rebounds and Omar Quintero scored 28 points, but it was not enough.

Canada (3-2), which beat Brazil on Tuesday night, has a quick turnaround with a matinee game against the Dominican Republic (1-4) on Wednesday.

Argentina will face Venezuela and Puerto Rico meets Brazil in Wednesday's other contests.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index