USA U17 Men Shake Spain In Second Half, Advance To Gold Medal Game With 95-66 Victory
July 7, 2012 • Kaunas, Lithuania
After holding a six-point halftime lead, the 2012 USA Basketball Men’s U17 World Championship Team (7-0) pulled away from Spain (4-3) in the second half for an eventual 95-66 semifinal victory at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship on Saturday night in Kaunas, Lithuania. The USA earned its gold medal game berth with the help of a powerful performance by Justise Winslow (St. John’s School / Houston, Texas), who finished the night with 17 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
Also contributing double-digit scoring were Conner Frankamp (Wichita North H.S. / Wichita, Kan.) with 13; Stanley Johnson (Mater Dei H.S. / Fullerton, Calif.) and Jahlil Okafor (Whitney Young H.S. / Chicago, Ill.), who played limited minutes after being whistled for his third foul less than three minutes into the contest, each chipped in 12 points; while Johnathan Williams (Southwind H.S. / Memphis, Tenn.) scored 10.
Defending U17 World Champion, in the July 8 gold medal game (1:30 p.m. EDT) the USA will face Australia (6-1). Australia connected on 15 3-pointers in handing Croatia (6-1) its first loss of the tournament, 83-71, to punch its ticket to the final. The two teams met on the first night of the tournament and the U.S. prevailed 89-67. The USA also defeated Australia in an exhibition game on June 25 in the Canary Islands, 89-64.
Spain and Croatia will play for the bronze medal on Sunday evening. Both games will be available live online via FIBATV.com.
“I thought Spain was very, very prepared for us. They did a lot of very interesting things to us defensively and kind of threw us off a little bit,” said Don Showalter, USA and Iowa City High School head coach. “I thought our kids played through some adversity tonight. We really showed what kind of team we are, especially in the second half.”
“In the first half they came out really strong,” said Joel Berry (Lake Highland Prep School / Apopka, Fla.), who scored eight points. “I felt that we came out kind of slow. They were on a high. They were ready to play us. They came out with everything they had.”
Spain had a relentless defensive plan that included a two-three zone and stymied the USA into just 14 points in the first quarter. Further, the Americans, who have been able to pick apart their last few opponents from the start on the defensive end allowed Spain to net three wide-open 3-pointers.
“It disrupted our offense,” said Winslow of Spain’s defense. “They’re pretty long and their guards up top are active. It just gave us trouble. We were turning the ball over a lot. I think we were focused, I just don’t think we were concentrating on attacking the zone in certain spots. They played really well the first half.”
To make matters even worse for the red, white and blue, Okafor picked up his third whistle at the 7:12 mark and Showalter was forced to sit his starting center.
“It’s very frustrating, especially because the game was close the whole first half,” said Okafor, who played just 12 minutes due to foul trouble. “Knowing that I couldn’t go into the game with my three fouls, I just had to watch. There was nothing I could do. It was very frustrating.”
Despite falling behind 19-14, the U.S. was not about to bow out after just 10 minutes of play. Stanley Johnson scored the first five points in a 7-2 run to start the second quarter to knot the game at 21-all at 7:57. From there the lead see-sawed back and forth.
During that time Spain’s leading scorer Ilimane Diop, a 6-10 center who had averaged 16.0 ppg. and 10.2 rpg. through his first six games, was called for a foul and a tech after complaining about the call at 4:14. That was his third and fourth, respectively, so he was also forced to sit. The USA connected on three of its four attempts from the line for Diop’s two fouls, before Spain went back in front for the final time, 34-33, on a pair from the charity stripe from Agusti Sans at 3:37.
Nineteen seconds later, Tyus Jones (Apple Valley H.S. / Apple Valley, Minn.), who had nine points and four assists, calmly stepped to the line and swished in his two tries to put the USA in front for good, 35-34. With its defense picking up, Williams hit a jumper and Stanley Johnson was fouled heading to the basket at 1:39.
At that point, Spain’s coach, who had been warned previously by the referee, was whistled for a technical and the USA hit three of four to expand its lead to six points, 40-34.
Each team hit a three to close the half, including one from Jones with a second left on the clock, and the teams retired to the locker room with the U.S. up 43-37.
Coach Showalter refocused his team at halftime and outscored Spain 10-4 to start the second half. Okafor picked up his fourth foul and returned to the bench. Spain immediately took advantage and outscored the U.S. 7-2 to cut the gap to 55-48 with 5:24 to play in the stanza.
“I think they were the first team that actually came out in a two-three zone,” said Johnson. “They really scouted our plays and knew what we were going to do to them. We just had to play basketball within that, attack the gaps, the basic stuff that beats a zone. We weren’t doing that. In the second half we got more comfortable in the zone, started finishing in the paint and everything else.”
Winslow got his teammates fired up with back-to-back put-backs that sparked an 11-0 run and with 2:22 left in the period the USA’s lead ballooned to 66-48. Spain managed a 6-3 run to end the quarter trailing by 15 points, 69-54.
That took some of the wind out of Spain’s sails, but it was the fourth-quarter onslaught that proved to be the exclamation point in the game. Forcing three turnovers and reeling off nine straight points punctuated by a dunk from BeeJay Anya (DeMatha Catholic H.S. / Gaithersburg, Md.), the U.S. outscored Spain 13-2 before the Europeans called for a timeout at 5:43. However, the damage was done as the USA’s lead at that point was up to 82-56 and the Americans sailed in for the win.
“Words can’t really describe how proud I am of this group of kids,” said Showalter. “First, we’re without Aaron Gordon. Then, we’re without Jabari Parker. Those are arguably two of the best players in the country. Then you have Dakari Johnson, a seven-footer, who can’t play and Jahlil Okafor gets into foul trouble. What a rallying point for our kids. I think this game really showed it wasn’t about any individual; it was all about ‘we.’ When you wear that USA across your chest, these kids really buy into that. They don’t really care who gets the points and I think you especially saw that in the second half today.”
After shooting just 32.5 percent (13-40 FGs) from the field in the first half, the United States recovered and finished the game at 43.2 percent (35-81 FGs); while Spain dropped from 42.9 percent (12-28 FGs) in the first half to 39.7 percent (23-58 FGs) on the night. Outrebounding Spain 54-25, the U.S. notched 22 points off of 23 Spain turnovers, while Spain scored just 12 from the USA’s 18 turnovers.
Spain’s high scorers were Alberto Martin and Andreu Adrover with eight points apiece. Diop finished the game with six points and two rebounds.
In today’s other games, the other two FIBA Americas teams came out on top as Canada (4-3) defeated China (4-3) 68-64 and Argentina (4-3) downed Czech Republic (2-5) 78-70. Canada and Argentina will square off in the fifth-place game, while China and the Czech Republic will compete for seventh place. Host Lithuania (3-4) finished in ninth place after earning a 75-64 victory over France (2-5) and South Korea (1-6) picked up its first victory and finished in 11th place after eclipsing Egypt (0-7) 89-83.
The USA is the defending championship at the U17 Worlds, which run through July 8 and feature 17-and-under national teams from 12 nations.
The inaugural FIBA U17 World Championship for Men was held in 2010. The USA captured gold with a perfect 8-0 record and former University of Florida standout Brad Beal was tabbed MVP of the tournament. The event is held every other year (2012, 2014, etc.). The USA qualified for this event by winning the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship.