USA Men's World Cup Qualifying Team Holds Off Puerto Rico 83-75
After leading by as many as 22 points in the third quarter, the USA Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team (4-0) found itself defending a one-point lead with 5:44 remaining against Puerto Rico (2-2) on Monday night at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz, California. But, it was the USA that rallied to come out victorious 83-75.
Sinking free throws down the stretch to help seal the win, the USA also was helped by its 42.3 percent shooting from 3-point (11-26 3pt FGs) and a 46-36 rebounding advantage.
The win improved the USA to 4-0 in first-round play and assured the Americans of advancing to the second round of FIBA World Cup Qualifying play.
The game was hard-fought, with 53 fouls called, and, thanks to its boisterous fans, Puerto Rico, seemed to be playing a home game as the away team.
“I’m very proud of our players,” said USA head coach Jeff Van Gundy. “Obviously, we had a rough second half, but that was due to how good a team Puerto Rico is. We have the utmost respect for their coaches and players and how hard they play, their depth.
“I think what happens is, I think it’s subconscious, but you start to play the score instead of the game,” Van Gundy continued. “You get up 22 and as a player you don’t try to let up, but it only took the end of that third quarter where they went from 17 to 12, and then we throw the ball away on the inbound pass, and now it’s 10. So, we have a lot of missteps that I’m sure if we were going to be together for the rest of the year, we’d learn from. Obviously, we were disappointed with that stretch, but I was even prouder of how we responded down the stretch to make enough big plays, good plays, to finish the game against a team that … we have had two game against them and they both could have gone either way. We win one by seven and one by eight, but it could have gone either way.”
Aaron Harrison led the USA with 16 points; Larry Drew II added 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds; while Rodney Purvis added 12 points. As a team the USA collected 14 steals.
“I thought we played hard, gave a lot of energy and, like coach said, big ups to Puerto Rico,” Drew said. “They’re a great team. They fought their way back into the game, which I knew was probably going to happen at some point. You don’t just bury a team like Puerto Rico, as much pride as they have in their country and everything they’re fighting for and going through. I also want to thank them for bringing out the best in us. I’m glad that we were able to get the win and keep advancing and keep qualifying.”
Seven U.S. scorers put points on the board in the first period to help the USA take a 20-13 lead, and that momentum carried into the second quarter, with the USA increasing its advantage by 10 points to 47-30 at halftime.
Most of the third quarter was much like the first half, but the momentum changed when Puerto Rico’s Gian Clavell, who finished with 23 points, converted on a four-point play with 1:18 left in the quarter. That kicked off a 23-2 run for Puerto Rico that stretched into the fourth quarter, and Puerto Rico trailed by just one point, 68-67, with 5:44 to go.
The next few minutes were back and forth, and Puerto Rico remained within one point before the USA found some breathing room. At 3:50 Purvis slammed home a fastbreak dunk, which was followed by a jumper from Harrison to put the USA ahead 76-71 with 3:05 left. Though Puerto Rico made one free throw next, Devin Williams, Purvis, David Stockton and Xavier Silas all sank its free throws down the stretch to help secure the 83-75 win.
“It was a great game,” Harrison said. “They are a good team, so we knew they were going to make a run. So, we just had to stay mentally tough and figure out how to win. So, that’s what we did.
“I think our will showed up,” Harrison added. “Coach talked about being relentless all 10 days that we were together, so I think we were all definitely relentless at the end of the day. Everyone stepped up and made big plays.”
The victory wrapped up the USA’s first-round, second-window games of FIBA World Cup Qualifying competition. The USA next will compete in the first-round, third window of FIBA World Cup Qualifying against Mexico (2-2) on June 28 in Mexico and Cuba (0-4) on July 1 in Cuba.
Regardless of the outcome of the USA’s games against Mexico and Cuba in June, the USA has assured itself of advancing to the second round as at least a top-three finisher in its pool.
After completion of the first round of FIBA World Cup Qualifying, the top three finishing teams in each of the four, Americas first-round groups advance to the second round. The three advancing teams from Group A and Group C will form Group E, while the top three finishers from Group B and Group D will form Group F. The three second-round windows of competition will take place Sept. 13-17, 2018; Nov. 29-Dec. 3, 2018; and Feb. 21-25, 2019.
Following completion of the Americas second-round games, seven teams will qualify out of the zone for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, including the top three finishing teams from second-round Group E and Group F, and the best fourth placed team between Group E and Group F.
Under FIBA’s new competition system, a total of 80 national teams from FIBA’s four regions of Africa, Americas, Asia (which now includes Oceania) and Europe are competing in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers over 15 months looking to earn a qualifying berth in the 32-team 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup competition that will be held Aug. 31-Sept. 15 in China.