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Lithuania rallies to beat Team USA

8/21/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Passed over by every NBA team and known
mostly for his last-second miss in Sydney, a Lithuanian guard
finally made a name for himself:

Sah-ROO'-nis Yah-seh-KEH'-vih-shuhs.

Sarunas Jasikevicius, whose off-target 3-pointer kept his team
from pulling off the biggest upset of the 2000 Games, didn't miss
when it counted Saturday night in a thrilling 94-90 victory against
the United States.

He scored 28 points and hit three in a row from behind the arc
as the fourth quarter wound down, including a rare four-point play
that put his team ahead to stay.

"This is, in a way, an incredible win, and in a way it doesn't
mean anything," Jasikevicius said. "What does this mean if you
don't win a medal? We beat the States. So what? We came here not to
beat the States or any other team, we just came here to fight for
the medal."

The Americans gave their best all-around performance of the
Olympics and led for most of the game, but they missed 11 of 33
foul shots to allow Lithuania to stay close.

It was the second loss for the U.S. team in Athens, matching the
total from the country's first 68 years of Olympic competition in
men's basketball. Before these games, the Americans hadn't lost
since the 1992 Dream Team first brought pro players to the
Olympics.

Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson and their teammates still qualified
for the quarterfinals when Angola lost 88-56 to Greece in
Saturday's nightcap. Their opponent will be determined by the
results of Monday's games.

"We had kind of a meltdown in the fourth quarter," coach Larry
Brown said. "We gave up over 90 points. You can't have a game like
that defensively and expect to win against a quality team."

Lithuania improved to 4-0, clinching the top spot in Group A and
joining Spain as the only two unbeaten teams. Saulius Strombergas
added 16 points and Ramunas Siskauskas had 14.

Back in Lithuania, fireworks thundered above the capital,
Vilnius, after the game, and cheering fans poured into the streets,
singing and waving flags.

For Jasikevicius, the victory also brought a measure of
satisfaction against the American basketball establishment.

In a league filling up with foreigners, the NBA missed one in
its own back yard, playing at Maryland.

"I was a free agent in Europe, and it never came -- any offers.
They talked about they were interested, but there weren't even any
minimum offers," Jasikevicius said. "So I think I'm just not a
player for the NBA, because these guys know what they're doing.

"If 30 teams think a player cannot play, I cannot play."

In the fourth quarter, Lithuania went 10-for-10 from the line
before Jasikevicius was fouled by Lamar Odom on a 3-pointer with
2:47 left, shooting a satisfied look Odom's way and then making the
foul shot.

"I just looked at him because he was hollering and screaming
before when he was playing defense," Jasikevicius said.

After a miss by Iverson, Jasikevicius made another long-range
shot to make it 88-84.

Richard Jefferson answered with a 3, but Jasikevicius wasn't
done. He made another 3-pointer to restore a four-point edge, and a
turnover by Stephon Marbury was followed by a pair of foul shots by
Jasikevicius to make it 93-87 with 57 seconds left.

Jefferson returned to the starting lineup and led the U.S. team
with 20 points. Duncan added 16.

The Americans forced 20 turnovers and nearly doubled Lithuania
in points scored in the paint, but it wasn't good enough against an
opponent with more experience together and more poise down the
stretch.

"When we get to the medal round, everybody is 0-0," Carlos
Boozer said. "They had some big plays, the four-point play, the
3s, six straight free throws. At the end of the game it seemed like
they were running the same play over and over again and we didn't
adjust, we didn't switch.

"We're better than this," he added, "I totally believe we're
getting better and we should have won this game."

The Americans found ways to penetrate the zone defense and
looked as crisp as they have since coming together in training camp
late last month.

The Lithuanians hit six of their first seven shots and nine of
12, but they committed 10 turnovers in the first quarter. Dwyane
Wade's steal and dunk gave the U.S. team its first lead, 24-22, and
three of Lithuania's top big men were in foul trouble before the
second quarter began.

The Americans beat Lithuania on the boards, created high-tempo
baskets with their defense and stayed ahead throughout the second
and third quarters. Their missed free throws, however, kept them
from pulling away.

Lithuania trailed just 69-67 after three quarters and tied it on
the first possession of the fourth. Neither team led by more than
two until Iverson hit a 15-footer, Jasikevicius missed a rushed
3-pointer and Iverson sank a 3 from the left wing to make it 79-75
with 4:55 left.

The lead grew to five, but Lithuania kept making free throws
before Jasikevicius took over, leaving thoughts of Sydney far
behind.

"You know, Sydney was four years ago," he said. "The shot in
Sydney, I keep saying, never had a chance to go in."

Lithuania assistant coach Donn Nelson, president of basketball
operations for the Dallas Mavericks, wasn't on the sideline for the
game. After Lithuania's close call against the United States in
Sydney, he said he'd never coach another game against his home
country.