USA Clinches Olympic Qualification While Advancing To World Cup Quarterfinals With Win Over Brazil
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The USA Basketball Men’s National Team is, as expected, officially headed back to the 2020 Olympic Games to defend its gold medal.
How the Americans are getting there is a bit unusual.
Relying on a staunch defense and some good shooting, the U.S. stifled Brazil (3-2) 89-73 Monday at Shenzhen, China, to remain unbeaten at the FIBA World Cup and punch its ticket to next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. Kemba Walker had 16 points and five assists while Myles Turner had 16 points and eight rebounds for the U.S.
“We’re thrilled that we qualified for the Olympics,” USA coach Gregg Popovich said. “With this new situation of qualifying, you don’t want to have to do that every year. So it’s a pretty big grind. Coach (Jeff) Van Gundy (who coached the USA through the World Cup Qualifying games) did that for us. He’s done a hell of a job so not having to do that again is huge. We’re thrilled that we’ve qualified.”
By winning their 24th World Cup game in a row, the top-ranked and two-time defending champion Americans (5-0) earned a quarterfinal date against France (4-1) on Wednesday in Dongguan, China. The winner plays Argentina (5-0) or Serbia (4-1) in Friday's semifinals. The championship game is Sunday. The Americans have won 58 straight games in international tournaments with NBA players.
As the USA plays more together and in bigger games, the chemistry seems to be advancing.
“No question,” Walker said. “We just need each other so bad. I think we’re starting to realize that. These teams are so good and teams are so tough. It’s just taking everybody and everything we got to win these games. The chemistry is coming along really well.”
Jaylen Brown added 11 points, four rebounds and four assists, while Harrison Barnes had 10 points as the USA snagged one of the two automatic qualifying spots given to the Americas zone, with Argentina grabbing the other by also advancing to the quarters and Brazil losing.
“I think guys are excited for it,” Barnes said of the knockout round. “This is what we came here for. This is what we (are) playing for this team for, these type of games, these type of moments.”
The U.S. has displayed a superb defense in the World Cup. Entering Monday’s game, the Americans had held their four opponents to 36% shooting and were coming off back-to-back games in which they allowed a combined 98 points. Brazil, with a bit more firepower and led by NBA players Anderson Varejao and Leandro Barbosa, shot 43.1 percent (28-of-65) against the U.S.
A quick start saw the U.S. grab a 14-7 lead, but Brazil climbed back into the game and trailed just 43-39 at halftime despite shooting 55%. The U.S. turned up the defense in the third quarter to take control of the game, leading 67-56 as Marcus Smart hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the period.
Brazil, the 12th-ranked team in the world, will need to find another road to Tokyo despite starting the World Cup 3-0. Combined with the Czech Republic’s win over Greece, the Brazilians needed to beat the U.S. by at least 22 points in order to claim one of the two Americas Olympic qualifying berths.
“France has got a lot of talent top to bottom and they probably play the closest in similarity to us as any team that’s in the tournament,” U.S. guard Joe Harris said.
Brazil coach Aleksander Petrovic was ejected in the second quarter, picking up the second technical foul while arguing what he considered a missed foul call.
Here are the matchups for the quarterfinals:
USA (5-0) vs. France (4-1), Wednesday, 7 a.m. ET (ESPN News)
Argentina (5-0) vs. Serbia (4-1), Tuesday, 7 a.m.
Spain (5-0) vs. Poland (4-1), Tuesday, 9 a.m.
Australia (5-0) vs. Czech Republic (4-1), Wednesday, 9 a.m.