U.S. Men Sweep World Cup Qualifying Window 4 with Win Over Colombia
Barranquilla, Colombia, is known as a fun port city, home to one of the country’s better carnaval celebrations.
For the USA Basketball Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team, there wasn’t a lot to party about Monday. Sure, the Americans found their shooting touch in the second half and toppled the feisty hosts 95-77 before a packed arena in the northern city on the Caribbean Sea. But the triumph wasn’t achieved without overcoming challenges.
Ultimately, the U.S. did what it had to do and improved to 7-1 in the second round of qualifying for the 2023 FIBA World Cup. Following a home victory over Uruguay on Friday, the U.S. is riding a six-game winning streak in World Cup qualifying. The victory also put the U.S. on the verge of clinching a spot in next year’s World Cup, something that could come in the next two-game window in November.
“To come out with a win is big-time for us,” U.S. coach Jim Boylen said.
John Jenkins connected on eight 3-pointers en route to 26 points for the U.S., while Langston Galloway and DaQuan Jeffries each added 14.
Braian Angola, a 6-foot-6 guard who played high school ball in Las Vegas and collegiately at Florida State, had 18 points to pace Colombia, which had won its last three World Cup qualifying games.
“Just never giving up,” Jenkins said of the key to the victory. “I told everybody in the locker room before the game not to worry about what happens in the first quarter. I’ve been in this moment before and a lot of times we end up being down in the first quarter. We were up, but we were missing shots. We didn’t play like we thought we were going to play in the beginning. We kept going, we kept fighting, we kept playing and shots started to fall.”
Indeed, those shots did start falling in the second half.
After going 17-of-37 from the field in the first half, including just 8-of-23 from distance, the U.S. went 18-of-28 in the final 20 minutes, including 9-of-11 on 3-pointers, to keep the cardiac Colombians — who have had a penchant for comebacks — at bay.
“I want our guys to play loose, and I want them to play confident,” Boylen said. “What we talked about is, ‘Continue to move (the ball) and they’ll go down.’ You’re not going to make every one, so sometimes when you miss, you think those are bad shots. I thought we had the right guys shooting them.”
Jenkins has certainly been the right guy against Uruguay and Colombia. In this two-game window, he 48 points and 14 3-pointers. His 26 points vs. Colombia tied for the most by an American in World Cup qualifying, set by Cameron Reynolds against Panama on Feb. 22, 2019, and tied by Justin Jackson against Puerto Rico on July 1, 2022. Jenkins’ eight 3-pointers also broke the U.S. qualifying record, which he shared with Reynolds after hitting six against Uruguay.
“I worked really hard in the offseason, put in hours and hours and hours shooting the basketball,” said Jenkins, a 31-year-old who played in France last season after parts of six seasons in the NBA.
“His leadership has been the biggest part of this,” Boylen said. “He loves playing on the road, he loves playing in hostile places and he’s in great shape, he came in in great condition. He believes in USA Basketball; he believes in what we’re doing. He’s elite at following a game plan, and he’s a veteran player who relishes wearing that USA uniform.”
Colombia, which handed Brazil its only first-round loss on the same court, fed off the home crowd to climb out of an early 17-5 hole in the first quarter. As the U.S. struggled with its shot, Colombia’s confidence grew and the hosts came within 31-26 on Andre Felipe Ibarguen Andrews’ basket with 2:51 left in the half. But there was Jenkins again, countering with an immediate 3-ball 12 seconds later, followed by a triple from Galloway that restored a little breathing room for the U.S., which led 45-32 at halftime.
Unlike a 21-2 burst early against Uruguay, there was no big run by the Americans against Colombia. Instead it was just a steady pulling away in the second half.
Thanks to Mexico beating Brazil 82-72 and Uruguay bouncing back to top Puerto Rico 78-70, the U.S. has a two-game lead in Group F, one of two groups in the Americas region. The top three teams in each group advance to the World Cup — to be held in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia a year from now — as does the best fourth-place team.
World Cup qualifying continues in November, when the U.S. hosts Brazil (Nov. 11) and Colombia (Nov. 14) in locations yet to be determined.
Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to USAB.com.