Opening statement: USA hoops crushes Puerto Rico
LAS VEGAS -- The United States emphatically reasserted its dominance over Puerto Rico.
Coming soon: a chance to reclaim its old spot on top of the basketball world.
Using a sensational defensive effort to overcome a slow start, the Americans overwhelmed the Puerto Ricans 114-69 on Thursday night in their lone exhibition game on home soil before the world championships.
"Puerto Rico played a great first quarter and they made adjustments to go against our pressure defense. They were really good," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Then our guys made some adjustments, not overextending themselves, and we were really good."
Carmelo Anthony scored 18 points, Antawn Jamison added 16 and Dwyane Wade had 14 for the Americans, who will meet Puerto Rico again on Aug. 19, in the opening game of the world championships in Sapporo, Japan.
Hours before departing for Asia to continue training for that event, the Americans showed their defense seems at championship level already.
A 31-2 run spanning halftime blew open the game and sent the U.S. on its way to avenging a 92-73 loss to Puerto Rico at the 2004 Olympics -- perhaps the most embarrassing moment in U.S. basketball history.
The Americans ended Puerto Rico's hopes for another upset with a suffocating defensive effort, continuing to contest shots long after the outcome had been decided.
"We know what kind of team they have,"said Puerto Rico guard Carlos Arroyo, who plays for the Orlando Magic. "They are definitely a different team than what they showed two years ago at the Olympics."
It was a mostly impressive effort from the U.S. team, put together by a revamped USA Basketball after disappointing performances in the last two international competitions: a third-place finish in '04 following a sixth-place showing in the 2002 worlds.
Cheered on by a group of flag-waving fans at the Thomas & Mack Center, Puerto Rico pulled ahead 33-29 while the Americans went scoreless for more than 3 minutes to open the second quarter. But the U.S. held Puerto Rico to one field goal over the final 7 minutes, closing the half with a 19-2 surge to take a 48-35 lead.
"I thought our defense was the turning point in that second period," Krzyzewski said. "Our guys were so excited to play ... they were too excited. We just settled down, the next group settled us down."
The Americans had a whopping 21-1 advantage in points off turnovers at halftime over the Puerto Ricans, whose jerseys featured the Burger King logo.
Getting easy baskets after turnovers, the Americans opened the second half with a 12-0 run, highlighted when James dunked and drew a foul after a steal by Johnson, to open a 60-35 bulge with 8:12 remaining in the third quarter.
Wade added his own dunk after a steal a few minutes later -- then saluted a group of troops sitting in the front row along the sideline.
Getting mostly dunks, the U.S. shot 70 percent (14-of-20) in the third quarter to build an 83-48 lead. After allowing 26 points in the first quarter, the Americans gave up a total of 22 in the middle two.
The U.S. started James, Wade and Anthony -- who all played in Athens -- along with Chris Bosh and Chris Paul. Anthony sparked the Americans to a quick start, scoring seven points as the U.S. opened a 9-2 lead. But Puerto Rico regrouped and was down only 29-26 after Rick Apodaca's 3-pointer with under 3 seconds left in the period.
The Puerto Ricans have slipped since their upset in Athens, splitting their eight regional qualifying games last year and needing a wild-card invitation from FIBA just to make it to Japan.
But they came out seriously Thursday. Coach Julio Toro was hit with a technical foul barely 1½ minutes into the game after arguing a carrying violation.
The game closed the second of two training camp sessions for the U.S. team on the campus of UNLV. The Americans were scheduled to depart Friday for China, where they will play exhibitions next week against China and Brazil, followed by additional training and two more games in South Korea.
The U.S. team is bringing 14 players to Asia after Amare Stoudemire was sent home earlier Thursday to continue rehabbing his knee and attend to the impending birth of a child. The roster must be reduced to 12 before the start of the world championships.
The teams scrimmaged on Tuesday night. Scores were reset at the end of each period, otherwise the Americans would have won 116-82. ... Among the sellout crowd of 18,218 were Julius Erving, Pat Riley and Olympic gold medalists Scottie Pippen and Clyde Drexler. ... Perhaps stemming from Duke's upset victory over undefeated UNLV in the 1991 Final Four, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski drew quite a few boos during pregame introductions.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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