World Cup Semifinal Preview: USA vs. Lithuania
Semifinals: USA vs. Lithuania
Palau Sant Jordi
3 p.m. ET, ESPN
Today’s World Cup semifinal clash between the tradition rich basketball powers USA (7-0) and Lithuania (6-1) will add another chapter to the series tale when the two teams meet at 3 p.m. EDT in a game that will be broadcast on ESPN.
“Well, they are different,” said USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski about the USA’s familiar semifinal opponent Lithuania. “They are consistent in that they are always good, always well coached, always have great spirit. But there are some new guys. The leader of this team, (Renaldas) Seibutis, has been with them, but he has emerged. (Jonas) Maciulis has been playing with them forever. Their big guys are young now and very good, and the strength really of their team is their depth at the bigs, because when they bring in the Lavrinovic brothers (Darjus and Ksistof), and (Paulius) Jankunas, the left-handed shooter, you really have five bigs who can play at a really high level in international basketball.”
While USA teams coached by Coach K are 2-0 against Lithuania, the USA overall in the World Cup owns a 1-1 series record against Lithuania having won 89-74 in the 2010 semifinal game, while falling 84-82 in the 1998 World Championship preliminary round play.
The 2014 FIBA World Cup semifinal game between USA-Lithuania is a rematch of the 2010 semifinals when the Americans streaked to an 89-74 win. Kevin Durant was unstoppable and behind his USA record setting 38 point performance (14-25 FGs, 5-12 3pt FGs, 5-5 FTs) and nine rebounds, as well as 13 points and 10 rebounds from Lamar Odom and 12 points and seven rebounds from Russell Westbrook, the USA earned an impressive 89–74 semifinals win over the previously unbeaten Lithuania team to advance to the ’10 gold medal game.
With NBA labor problems in the summer of 1998 preventing the use of NBA players, USA Basketball assembled a team consisting of players who had played professionally overseas, in the CBA, or in college. Facing Lithuania in both teams’ second game, USA guard Jimmy Oliver's would-be game winning three at the buzzer rolled in then out as Lithuania held on to collect an 84-82 win. Playing a major role in Lithuania’s victory was current USA National Team international personnel scout and Denver Nuggets assistant general manager Arturas Karnisovas. Karnisovas, who starred at Seton Hall University and helped lead Lithuania to a pair of Olympic bronze medals, finished with a game high 29 points in the win.
Since the 1998 FIBA World Championship, the USA and Lithuania have played as total of seven games - twice in World Cup play and five times in Olympic action. In those seven games, the U.S. has won five times and the USA's overall average margin of victory in the seven games has been just +4.7 points a game. Only one of the seven games has been decided by 10 or more points.
In Olympic play, the two teams have met in every Olympics but one (2008) since 1992 when NBA players were part of USA teams. The U.S. is 6-1 versus Lithuania in Olympic play. In 2012 the USA recorded a 99-94 win, the closest margin of any of its eight wins in London. In 2004, Lithuania defeated the USA 94-90, however, the U.S. avenged the loss with a 104-96 decision in the bronze medal game. And not many basketball fans have forgotten the scare Lithuania gave the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team when they fell 84-82 to the Americans in a down-to-the-wire semifinal clash.
Lithuania in 2014 is led by Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas who is averaging 12.8 ppg. and 8.6 rpg. Also aiding Lithuania are guard Renaldas Seibutis, 10.3 ppg.; forward Darjus Lavrinovic, 8.9 ppg. and 10-for-16 shooting from 3-point; Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas, 8.9 ppg. and 4.3 rpg. Star guard Mantas Kalnietis was injured in a pre-World Cup exhibition game and is not participating in the 2014 World Cup.
“Well, he (Jonas Valanciunas) so far is going to be the best low-post presence that we will have faced, and he gets a piece of the paint in numerous ways, and then he is a great offensive rebounder, not a good one, but a great one,” said U.S. mentor Krzyzewski of Lithuania’s 6-foot-11 center Valanciunas.
The American effort continues to feature a balanced effort that is spearheaded by Anthony Davis who is averaging 13.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks a game, while Kenneth Faried is adding 13.0 points and a team high 8.1 rebounds a contest. The high-scoring USA offense is also fueled by James Harden, 12.7 points and 3.9 assists a game; Klay Thompson, 12.3 points; Stephen Curry, 10.4 points and 3.6 assists; DeMarcus Cousins, 9.7 points and 5.0 rebounds; and Kyrie Irving, 9.3 points and 3.4 assists (USA cumulative statistics are available here).
The USA leads the 24-team World Cup field in scoring offense averaging 102.3 points a game, and the squad is shooting 52.4 percent from the floor. Almost as impressive as the USA’s 33.1 point average margin of victory is the USA’s +8.1 rebounding margin and +9.7 turnover margin.
The winner of the USA-Lithuania semifinal contest, as well as the winner of the Sept. 12 France-Serbia semifinal game, will advance to the Sept. 14 gold medal game that will be played in Madrid.
Just The Facts: Lithuania
FIBA World Ranking: 4th
How Lithuania Qualified: FIBA Europe silver medalists (8-3)
World Cup Appearances: 4
World Cup Overall Record: 24-10 (.706%)
World Cup Finishes: 3rd (2010); 7th (1998, 2006)
World Cup Record vs. USA: 1-1 (74-89, 2010; 84-82, 1998)
Last Sr. Team Meeting vs. USA: 2012 OLY (94-99)
2012 Olympic Finish: 8th (2-4)
2013 Head Coach: Jonas Kazlauskas
2013 Key Players In FIBA Europe Championship: Mantas Kalnietis (12.1 ppg., 4.7 rpg., 5.0 apg.), Linas Kleiza (11.4 ppg., 5.0 rpg.), Jonas Maciulis (8.6 ppg., 4.3 rpg), Renaldas Seibutis (8.5 ppg., 2.4 rpg., 2.4 pg.).
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