USA Basketball: Women’s FIBA World Championship 2010

Congratulations to the USA Women’s National Team, the 2010 FIBA World Champions.

After finishing a disappointing third place in 2006, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings had a chance to return to international competition and redeem themselves. However like the Men’s National team who faced the host country Turkey in the finals, they had to get past the host country and a sold-out crowd of supporters in Karlovy Vary. Thanks to contributions from both the veterans and young, rising stars, Team USA defeated the Czech Republic 89-69 and captured their eighth title.

I’m happy for my good friend Geno Auriemma, who has been the head coach of the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team since 1985. Geno will add his World Champion’s trophy to a case already filled with seven NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship trophies. I know he must be extremely proud of the effort his squad put forth and the results they achieved.

USA Basketball: Gold Rush in Istanbul

Two teams made history in yesterday’s 2010 FIBA World Championship Semifinals. Kevin Durant scored 38 points in USA’s 89-74 victory over Lithuania in Istanbul, setting a new US FIBA World Championship record for point scored.

It was an impressive win for Team USA and a much better showing than their previous friendly with Lithuania prior to the tournament. The U.S. kept turnovers down and through pressure defense managed to create opportunities to get out in front and score. In addition to Durant’s huge performance, Lamar Odom finished with a double-double while Eric Gordan and Westbrook really contributed off the bench.

Now Team USA is one win away from World Championship gold. But they must contend with undefeated Turkey, a team bolstered by the hopes, prayers and thunderous support of a nation looking to become the first host country to take the title in forty years.

Turkey trailed Serbia for most of yesterday’s semifinal. But the momentum shifted when Kerem Tuneceri drilled a 3-pointer late in fourth quarter to give Turkey the lead for the first time in the half. And Tuneceri would be the hero of the game.

With just seconds remaining on the clock, Tuneceri penetrated and sank a layup to steal the game 83-82. The announcer bellowed, “Turkey is going to the gold medal game and the roof might be coming off the Olympic Dome.”

As thrilling as it was, atmosphere at today’s final between USA and Turkey will be off the charts. Pandemonium will erupt hours before the game and will continue throughout. Turkish fans will not stop cheering. They will not stop chanting. They will not stop whistling. They will not stop waving their flags. This is the first time Turkey has reached the world basketball finals. And they have done so in their own country knowing they will have a chance to topple arguably the best team in the world. It will be a wild spectacle.

Not only will team USA will have to contend with the emotion of a crowd that will be after them the whole time. Turkey also has experienced NBA players including Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan İlyasova, Ömer Asik and Semih Erden. This group of guys is not going to be in awe of Team USA or afraid of competing with NBA players because they play against them all the time.

Turkey may not be as athletic as Team USA, but they move the ball well and execute on offense. USA will have to rely on tenacious defense to disrupt Turkey’s offense. In yesterday’s USA-Serbia semi, the United States took away the 3-point line early on and piled on the pressure, forcing turnovers. The defensive pressure that the U.S. put on Lithuania did not allow them to have all the looks from the 3-point line that they got against Argentina.

And once again Team USA will rely on Kevin Durant to lead the charge and put up big numbers. He was unstoppable against Lithuania. A repeat performance could very well enable the U.S. to bring home their first FIBA World Championship Naismith Trophy since 1994.

USA vs. Turkey airs live on Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 2:30 PM ET on ESPN; replay at 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2.

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.

USA Basketball: Patience is a Virtue

Team USA finished the first round of the 2010 FIBA World Championship undefeated, along with Turkey and Lithuania. Faced with single elimination in the upcoming knockout rounds, the U.S. will have to maintain their perfect record from here on out in order to bring home the gold. Their first obstacle in route to the quarterfinals is Angola, who already pulled a major upset in the tournament and made history by beating Germany for the first time 92-88 in overtime.

There’s no question that the two keys to Team USA’s 5-0 start were their tenacious, aggressive, man-to-man defense and their transition offense, which outnumbered its opponents as they pushed the ball down the court. However USA’s pressure defense and ability to score in the open floor worked against lesser opponents. Against higher level, upper echelon teams, this risky style of play could wind up costing them.

Going forward, exercising patience on both ends of the floor will be critical to USA’s continued success. Lack of ball movement on offense can lead to more possessions for their opponents. And taking gambles on defense can lead to easy scoring for their opponents.

Because better teams will defend much more rigorously and rebound better, USA can’t afford to turn the ball over carelessly by making hurried passes. And USA has to move the opposing defense. If not, the rest of the defense can dig in and get set to help. But if you constantly have your opponent on the move he can’t do that because he has to pay attention to his open man.

We’ve seen Team USA gamble a lot in the passing lane and try to shoot the gap to come up with steals and force turnovers to get easy baskets in transition. But if you face a team that handles the ball well and passes well and doesn’t turn the ball over, then you run the risk of leaving them with wide-open shots. USA will face teams that run methodical offenses and wait until the 4thor 5th pass to pull the trigger. Against these more skilled teams, when gambling on defense doesn’t work it winds up being a basket for the other team. Team USA’s defense will have to be more solid and more secure against the teams they’ll face.

In addition to being more patient on both offense and defense, USA will have to sustain laser focus and intensity from start to finish. A five-minute lapse cost them the World Championship last time around when Greece knocked them out of the tournament in 2006. At this level you can’t afford a lack of effort and focused concentration because that’s the one time you may catch a team playing at the top of their game, and in a one-and-done that can cost you the championship.

Team USA was fortunate to have a few days off to evaluate their play so far, figure out what they can do better and devise a game plan going into the eight-finals. Maybe Coach K and his staff have been holding certain things back that we haven’t seen them use yet. I know through scouting they’ve devised an excellent game plan. Now let’s see if their hard work at practice enables them to execute when it counts most.

USA vs. Angola airs live on Sunday, September 6, 2010 at 11 AM ET on ESPN2; replay at 10 PM ET on ESPN2. Click here to view the rest of the 2010 FIBA World Championship broadcast schedule.

USA Basketball: USA Narrowly Escapes Brazil in Their Toughest Test of the Tournament to Date

Team USA was fortunate to hang on for a 70-68 win over Brazil today, making it three in a row. USA leads Group B in the preliminary round of the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey.

Although Kevin Durant had another huge 27-point performance, this was the USA’s sloppiest showing so far this summer. They had no ball movement offensively; they went to one-on-one play way too often; and they did not bring the same defensive intensity we saw in their previous matchups.

Credit Brazil for having an outstanding game and making huge shots. They put forth a great effort, but looks like the fatigue factor may have set in during the second half as Brazil didn’t come close to making the same number shots as in the first half. They certainly could have used the help of Anderson Varejão, who continues to rest a sprained right ankle.

Game 3 was a nail-biter up until the very end, when Leandro Barbosa missed a layup at the buzzer that would have tied up the game and forced overtime. Team USA’s lack of defensive intensity combined with the high number of turnovers nearly cost them the game. But thanks to their perseverance and a little luck, USA remains undefeated.

Fortunately Team USA can use their day off tomorrow to regroup and get their legs back under them before facing Iran on Wednesday. And the fledgling team will get a couple more international games under its belt before facing some of their more dangerous adversaries.