LAS VEGAS, August 27, 2007 — “Everybody’s waiting for you to fail, and we did do that last year,” U.S. assistant coach Mike D’Antoni said earlier Monday, referring to the team’s loss to Greece in the World Championships, where, as he noted, a couple bad quarters derailed its hopes of bringing home the gold medal.

Later in the night, D’Antoni and the rest of the coaching staff saw their team struggle for another couple quarters, before finally pulling away from the Mexican national team for the 127-100 victory in the teams’ opening game of the quarterfinal round.

“I think everybody was just a little stiff tonight,” Kobe Bryant assessed the team’s sluggishness. “We had a hard time getting loose, getting going. It took us a while to find a rhythm in our legs and once we did we were able to make a pretty good run at it.”

“I think it was us,” fellow starter, Carmelo Anthony agreed. “We came in, looked at the crowd – wasn’t nobody in the crowd. We didn’t have any energy. LeBron (James) came in at halftime and said, ‘Look, the energy man has woken up.’ We just tried to find a way to get some energy from somewhere tonight.”

Some of that stiffness and lack energy could have come from the fact it was the team’s third game in as many days, including a hard fought win over Brazil only 24 hours before. The 12 players on the U.S. roster are accustomed to a back-to-back, at most, during the 82-game NBA season.

“Both teams played last night,” U.S. head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “That was a very big game for us last night against Brazil. There was a lot of energy spent – and emotion, adrenaline – by both teams.

“In Brazil’s case, they lost. And Puerto Rico played great.”

As did former Arkansas Razorbacks coach Nolan Richardson’s Mexican squad.

“Nolan’s team really shot the heck out of the ball,” Coach K noted. “They played well. I was talking to him before the game and he said they’ve been training since May and they’re in great shape. They never gave up whenever we got up by 30 or 27 or whatever and they just kept making shots. And that’s to their credit.”

That much is true, as Mexico shot 45 percent from the field in each of the first two quarters and limited the Americans to only 20 points in the second after falling into a 45-23 hole at the end of the first.

The U.S. opened the game pushing the pace and moving the ball, shooting 80 percent from the field and registering 12 assists on its 16 baskets. In the following 10 minutes, however, the U.S. made only seven (four assisted) of its 19 shots.

“They kept playing hard,” Anthony said. “The Mexico team never gave up. They fought all the way to the end. Any time you go up against a team that will never quit, it’s going to be a little difficult.”

Adding to those difficulties could have been the fact that Coach K changed up his substitution patterns in this game, giving different players the chance to get used to being on the floor together. Chauncey Billups and Amare Stoudemire joined Bryant, Anthony and James for the opening tip, in place of Jason Kidd and Dwight Howard.

“Those two guys are like starters,” Krzyzewski explained of the decision to experiment with his lineup. “We might go back to the original starters tomorrow.”

Coach K went back to the original starters at the 5:20 mark, at which time he also subbed in Mike Miller for Anthony; Michael Redd has typically been the first player off the bench for Coach K.

Such tinkering is a luxury afforded by the lopsided results the team has enjoyed, as well as a necessity brought on by the lack of practice time because of the tournament’s format.

“As talented as we are,” Redd remarked after the game, “it’s still a challenge because you want to sharpen some things. So, we’ve been watching a lot of film on the opposite team (and) on ourselves, as well, trying to figure what we’re doing wrong at the same time.”

The team was able to correct one trouble spot in the second half: slowing Mexico’s Romel Beck, who scored 15 first-half points on 5-of-9 shooting. The California native and former UNLV player finished the game with a team-high 20 points.

“He’s an excellent player,” Redd noted, echoing what we heard a day earlier about Beck. He kind of reminds me of Kevin Martin in the NBA, a Sacramento Kings type of player. We just tried to shut him down a little bit more in the second half.”

Just as the team made the necessary adjustment on Beck, it intends do the same regarding its own performance as it advances in this tournament.

Chalk up tonight as a learning experience, which is exactly what this entire summer is serving as.

Turning lemons into lemonade, D’Antoni noted this afternoon that if the U.S. team hadn’t lost to Greece last summer, it would not be playing now, building its chemistry.

The extra work and experience is teaching the team exactly what it’s going to take to win gold in Beijing next summer.

“It was an ugly game tonight,” Anthony put it honestly, “but we won and we’ll take it. We’ve just got to learn from it and get better.”