USA Basketball: USA-Russia Rivalry Never Gets Old

Team USA is only three wins away from gold, but only one loss away from elimination. Today they face Russia in the one-and-done quarterfinals round of the FIBA World Championship. And the rivalry runs deep. In light of the heated exchange between head coaches Krzyzewski and Blatt regarding the Soviet Union’s controversial 51-50 victory over the U.S. for the gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics exactly 38 years ago, I expect today’s game to be very emotional for both teams.

But Team USA can’t afford to let their emotions get the best of them. They must maintain composure and stick to their game plan in order to succeed against this sizable Russian team. USA may have been a little rattled after squeaking past Brazil by only two points, but they proceeded to win handily over Iran, Tunisia and Angola. From the beginning of Sunday’s USA vs. Angola game you could tell that the days off were very good for the United States. They came out with fresh legs and high energy; they made shots and shared the basketball.

Thirty assists for them in the game was a good sign that they were moving the ball and making shots. Led by Chauncey Billups, who drilled five of seven 3-pointers, their total team effort produced a landslide 121-66 victory over Angola, who was without their leading scorer and completely overmatched as far as the talent level on the floor.

When you get down to the final eight teams there are no weak opponents so Team USA is going to have to play at the top of their game from here on out. Today the U.S. will face a different caliber of player in Russia and it will be a much tougher game than Angola. Russia has only dropped one game in the tournament to undefeated Turkey, and they took apart New Zealand, beating them convincingly. They are a tall, physical team anchored by towering centers Timofey Mozgov (7’1″) and Sasha Kaun (6’11”) who are effective under the basket both on offense and defense. Their height on the inside will pose a challenge for this undersized U.S. team.

Angola’s style of play was good for the United States because they tried to shoot quickly and run, which opens up the floor. The teams that have made the United States play poorly have been the ones that have been very patient when running their offense and forced the United States to defend over longer periods of time. So look for the disciplined Russian team to try and slow down the quick, athletic USA to limit points in transition.

Once again the United States is fortunate to have had a few days off between games to rest up and get in some practices to work on their offensive strategies and defensive tenacity, which was excellent for the majority of the game against Angola and will be imperative against Russia.

USA vs. Russia airs live on Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 11 AM ET on ESPN; replay at 1:30 AM ET on ESPN2. Click here to view the rest of the 2010 FIBA World Championship broadcast schedule.