Anthony, Team USA use outside shooting to clinch Olympics berth
LAS VEGAS -- The Americans are headed to Beijing, looking good enough to be golden again.
Carmelo Anthony scored 27 points, Michael Redd had 23, and the United States earned a spot in the 2008 Olympics by crushing Puerto Rico 135-91 on Saturday in the semifinals of the FIBA Americas tournament.
A 78-point second half gave the Americans their third-highest scoring game since they started using pros in 1992. The Dream Team scored 136 points against Cuba in its first game, and the Americans had 137 against Russia in the 1994 world championships final.
"I don't know if we can be any better," LeBron James said. "We shoot the ball extremely well, we rebound extremely well, we play defense. Anything you want in a team, we've been able to do that for the most part the whole tournament."
James added 19 points and nine assists, Kobe Bryant scored 15 points, and the three stars keyed a dominant third quarter stretch that showed why the Americans will arrive in China as one of the gold medal favorites. Then they headed to the bench, where they sat while fans chanted their names in the final minutes.
"We congratulated everybody and each other and said congratulations, but we know we're in it for the long haul," Bryant said. "So it's not something that we get too excited about."
Anthony made four 3-pointers during the near-perfect period, when the Americans hit 14 of 16 shots (87.5 percent), including all eight 3-pointers while outscoring Puerto Rico 43-28.
The United States finished 23-of-36 (64 percent) from behind the arc. Redd was 7-of-8, Anthony hit 6 of 7, and Mike Miller was 4-for-6.
"I think everybody worked on it after everybody said we can't shoot and don't have shooters," Anthony said. "But I think we proved we can and can score in multiple ways."
The Americans are without a gold medal in their last three major events: the 2004 Olympics, and 2002 and '06 world championships. But they remain untouchable in the Olympic qualifier, improving to 35-0 -- with still only one game decided by single digits.
They will try to complete a perfect run in Sunday's final against Argentina, but the game is ultimately meaningless. Both teams locked up berths by winning their semifinal games, joining host China, world champion Spain, and zone champions Iran, Angola and Australia as teams already in the Beijing field.
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"We'll approach it the same," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Both teams are ecstatic to be qualified for the Olympics. We'd just like to finish off playing well. In the big scheme of things I guess it doesn't mean much, but we'll go out and play hard."
Larry Ayuso scored 22 points and Carlos Arroyo added 21 for Puerto Rico, which stayed with the U.S. until a curious substitution pattern in the second quarter -- not that it would have mattered after what the Americans did in the third.
"We knew we were facing the best team in the world," said Arroyo, who sparked Puerto Rico's upset of the U.S. in Athens. "The changes the USA team has made the last three years, we just couldn't run with them."
Still, Puerto Rico did enough here to guarantee itself games next year. Minutes away from elimination in the first round, the Puerto Ricans recovered to earn a spot along with Brazil and fifth-place Canada in next summer's Olympic qualifying tournament.
Puerto Rico and Brazil will meet Sunday for third place.
With Arroyo getting around Jason Kidd and Ayuso occasionally breaking free of Bryant for some long jumpers, Puerto Rico shot 55 percent and trailed only 33-27 after one quarter. The lead was still six when both went to the bench with 8:20 left.
And for some reason, that's where they stayed for the rest of the half.
The Americans quickly pushed the lead into double digits, and the Puerto Ricans couldn't do much about it -- especially after another starter, center Peter John Ramos, went to the bench with his third foul with 5:11 to go. Puerto Rico managed only four field goals in the period and the U.S. lead was 57-42 at halftime.
"I thought our bench would give us good minutes and I trusted my bench would keep us close, but they pulled away," Puerto Rico coach Manuel Cintron said. "It was my mistake but I thought our bench would keep it closer than 15 points."
Anthony moved past Gary Payton for the most points by a U.S. player in an Olympic qualifying tournament. Anthony has 175 points, while Payton had 160 in 1999.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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