U.S. Men Open Round 2 Of World Cup Qualifying With Rout Over Uruguay
Buoyed by a little extra pregame motivation from a legend, the USA Basketball Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team used a sizzling second quarter to dispatch Uruguay 105-71 Thursday at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas. The win to open the second round of qualifying for the 2023 FIBA World Cup was the fifth straight for the U.S., the longest streak in team history during the qualifying process.
John Jenkins scored 22 points, Langston Galloway had 18 and DaQuan Jeffries 16 for the Americans, who blew the game open with a 21-2 run early in the second quarter that turned a tight game into a very happy late-night flight to the next destination.
“We have great leadership on this team,” said U.S. coach Jim Boylen, in his fourth window with this team. “We have as much a player-coached team as any window we’ve had. … They take ownership of this. We talk about it. It’s an option to come here. You could maybe do something else, but once you’re here, you’re obligated to play the way we play and to give it everything you have. Langston and John and (Jeffries), they’ve really led us and it makes it easy on everyone. They’ve led. They’ve taught the young guys.”
As a bonus, Mike Krzyzewski — the now-retired Duke legend who coached the U.S. men to three consecutive Olympic gold medals — made a surprise appearance before the game in the U.S. locker room. He gave a five-minute pep talk that seemed to add that extra dose of importance for the Americans in this World Cup qualifier.
“We knew when he came to talk to us, we had to put on a good performance and play hard,” said Jenkins, who didn’t miss a shot while scoring 16 points in the second half. “The standards that he set with his Olympic teams has been passed down to us and we’re just trying to keep it going.”
With one year until the 2023 FIBA World Cup tips off in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia, a joint host competition, all of that added up to a jackpot of a night in Vegas for the U.S.
Next up for the U.S. is a game Monday against host Colombia in Barranquilla. Colombia won on the road against Mexico 93-89 in overtime Thursday and is 3-4. In the final first-round game, Colombia handed Brazil its only first-round loss 104-98 in Barranquilla. Brazil lost again Thursday, falling at home to Puerto Rico 75-72 and is 5-2. The next two-game window is in mid-November, when the Americans host Brazil and Colombia at sites to be announced. The final two games are in late February at Uruguay and home vs. Brazil. A U.S. win Monday would all but mathematically clinch a spot in next year’s World Cup.
Seven teams from the two groups in the Americas region — the top three in each plus one fourth-place team — qualify for the World Cup.
Uruguay (4-3), seeking its first appearance in the World Cup, was hoping for a better showing than when it was swept by the U.S. at this stage in the 2019 qualifying, including a 114-57 loss. Baskets by Esteban Batista, a soon-to-be 39-year-old and the only player from his country to play in the NBA (Atlanta Hawks, 2005-07), and Luciano Parodi to open the game gave Uruguay a quick 4-0 lead. Not soon after that, Eric Mika of the U.S. picked up his second foul and was sent to the bench for the rest of the half.
But that is when the character of this U.S. team showed up and righted the ship until it found the right wind. Behind seven points from Jeffries and five from Galloway, the Americans were able to take a 20-16 lead after the first quarter.
Uruguay countered David Stockton’s layup to open the second quarter with a Joaquin Rodriguez 3-pointer to pull within 22-19. But the U.S. found its touch and exploded for a 21-2 run that made it 43-21 and had the wind to its back the rest of the way.
Contributions came from all throughout the roster. The U.S. played 11 of its 12 players in the first quarter. Dewan Hernandez was among the big men who filled Mika’s role of defending Batista, who led Uruguay with 14 points and five rebounds. Hernandez had 12 points and team-high eight rebounds as the Americans had a 33-23 advantage on the boards.
The U.S. also had 16 assists on 21 first-half buckets.
“I thought we got a lot from a lot of guys,” Boylan said. “Dewan was terrific. I thought Robert (Woodard II) had his moments, I thought Mac McClung had his moments. You know, you play your minutes as hard as you can, you play them the right way and I think good things happen. With this team, like every window we’ve had, our depth is a big weapon for us. But your depth has to have the right attitude because you can’t start 10 guys, 12 guys, right? So I just love the fact that our guys come off the bench with force and ready to play. We hope we can wear people down. We hope we can. And tonight, I thought every guy just played as hard as he could play.”
In addition to the U.S. traveling to Colombia, other Group F games Monday are Uruguay returning home to face Puerto Rico and Brazil hosting Mexico.