<
>

James' record outing highlights Team USA's dominance in title game

LAS VEGAS -- LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony finally earned
the reward that used to await U.S. players.

James scored 31 points, most by an American player in an Olympic
qualifier, and the United States capped its dominance in the desert
by beating Argentina 118-81 on Sunday to win the FIBA Americas
championship.

Then James and Anthony climbed the podium and were given gold
medals -- a first for the two players whose international careers
had consisted of nothing but bronze.

"I'm tired of bronze," Anthony said. "I'm speechless right
now. This is my first time ever winning the gold medal."

Dwight Howard made all seven of his shots and scored 20 points,
and Anthony added 16 points for the Americans, who were never
challenged while winning 10 games in 12 days and will head to
Beijing next summer as one of the favorites.

The Americans averaged 116.7 points in the tournament.

The game was largely meaningless, because both teams had already
clinched spots in the Beijing field by winning semifinal games
Saturday. But the Americans didn't let up, remaining perfect in
four Olympic qualifiers, including 7-0 against Argentina.

James and Anthony played on teams that finished third in the
2004 Olympics and '06 world championships. The latter
disappointment forced the Americans to play in the qualifying
tournament this summer, but it proved to be just a minor roadblock.

"I learned that players can throw their egos and personal
accolades out the window," James said. "We came here for one
reason and that was to get the gold medal."

James finished the tournament shooting 76 percent from the field
-- his percentage actually dropped from 76.5 after he made 11 of 15
shots. He was 8-of-11 from 3-point range -- another U.S. record --
and also led the tournament in that category, hitting 62 percent.

"You don't like to single guys out, but LeBron's performance
today was one of the best ones in an international game that a U.S.
player has had," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He was
big-time today."

The game was close for 6 minutes before the United States blew
it open with an 18-0 run. The Americans scored the final 15 points
of the first quarter, then Chauncey Billups opened the second with
a 3-pointer for a 38-14 lead.

At one point in the second, the Americans scored five
consecutive baskets on dunks -- three by Howard and two by James,
with each having one set up by Kobe Bryant, who had a quiet scoring
night but had eight assists. When Howard dunked with 4:58 remaining
to push the lead to 51-21, the United States had 16 assists on 18
field goals.

The Americans led 59-34 at halftime after shooting 57 percent.
They averaged 59.7 points in the first half during the tournament,
and their closest lead at the break was 14 points.

"We have the depth, we have the talent to be able to keep that
foot on the gas the entire game and just not turn it on and off,"
Bryant said.

James then hit four 3-pointers in the third on his way to
passing Anthony and Allen Iverson, who had both scored 28 points in
an Olympic qualifying game.

Tournament MVP Luis Scola had 23 points for Argentina (8-2),
which lost twice to the Americans. He led a team lacking its normal
firepower to a spot in the Olympics, and now turns his attention to
making his NBA debut next month for the Houston Rockets.

Without Manu Ginobili, Fabricio Oberto, Andres Nocioni and
Walter Herrmann, the defending Olympic champions didn't have nearly
enough to keep up with the Americans here. The United States won
91-76 on Thursday in a second-round game that was never close after
the opening minutes.

But the Argentina players didn't seem to disappointed, smiling
and waving to their fans who sang and danced throughout the awards
ceremony.

"This team for the USA is one of the best USA teams,"
Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. "Of course nobody forgets
the first Dream Team with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry
Bird, but I like this USA team so much.

"They play so hard. They have great players like LeBron James
and Kobe Bryant, but they play together so well and they play great
defense. It is a pleasure to play against them."

Puerto Rico beat Brazil 111-107 earlier Sunday in the
third-place game.