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John Schuhmann

Lamar Odom and Mike Krzyzewski.
Lamar Odom, with coach Mike Krzyzewski, will have his hands full against Russia.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Big Russian wall blocks Americans' way in path to title

Posted Sep 8 2010 11:23AM

ISTANBUL -- This one will be a physical challenge.

The U.S. National Team will meet Russia in the quarterfinals of the 2010 FIBA World Championship on Thursday (11 a.m. ET, ESPN) and, appropriately, it will be a step up in competition from their round-of-16 matchup with Angola on Monday.

Russia lacks offensive talent, but is a big, strong and physical team. The Russians go 6-foot-5, 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-9 at the two, three and four spots. And their two centers both play big, averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Russia will look to use their size and get under the Americans' skin with more contact than they've seen all tournament. Russia wears teams down and punishes them late. Over the course of six games, the Russians have lost the first half by four points, but have won the second by 45.

The U.S. hasn't seen that kind of physical play in its last three games against Iran, Tunisia and Angola. But the U.S. will be able to draw on the experience of facing Lithuania in its first exhibition game after arriving in Europe. The Lithuanians hammered the Americans early and often whenever they tried to get to the basket or out on the break.

"I thought Lithuania knocked us back in our first game in Europe," USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said Wednesday. "I think we were more annoyed [with the physicality]. It took us away from our focus. And we can't allow that to happen in this game."

The Lithuania game was an experience the U.S. needed, and they're glad that they've gone through it.

"It opened our eyes to how physical it can get down here," point guard Derrick Rose said. "And if anything, it makes us play tougher and helps us prepare for these types of games that are right here."

Thursday is the 38th anniversary of the controversial gold medal game of the 1972 Olympics, where the U.S.S.R. beat the U.S. by one after being given three tries to get a final shot with one second left. But that game has absolutely nothing to do with Thursday's quarterfinal.

The U.S. should win this one, but the Americans will have to bring the energy and unselfishness that they showed against Angola on Monday. And they will have to play both physically and mentally tough. Otherwise, this one could also come down to the final minutes.

"It's a different type of game," Krzyzewski said. "We have to adjust right away to it and not wait."

Recent History

2000 Olympics: USA 85, Russia 70
2002 World Championship: USA 106, Russia 82

How Russia got here (Second place, Group C)

Defeated Puerto Rico, 75-66
Lost to Turkey, 65-56
Defeated Ivory Coast, 72-66
Defeated China, 89-80
Defeated Greece, 73-69
Defeated New Zealand, 78-56

Though Monday's win over New Zealand was their only comfortable victory, the Russians are still 5-1, with their only loss coming by nine points to Turkey. Whether or not either team really wanted to win the Group C finale, it was the victory over Greece that earned Russia the second seed.

In the round of 16 on Monday, Russia shut down what had been a potent New Zealand offense and used its size advantage to outrebound the not-so Tall Blacks, 41-25. Andrey Vorontsevich led the way offensively, scoring 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting.

Russia's offense
104.8 points scored per 100 possessions (12th of 24 teams through Tuesday)

Without a real go-to scorer, Russia is balanced offensively. The Russians share the ball, assisting on 64 percent of their field goals, the second-highest ratio in the tournament. Anton Ponkrashov, a 6-foot-7 guard who has come off the bench in the last three games, is Russia's best playmaker coming off of high screens, averaging close to six assists here.

Russia will look to post both of their centers, Sasha Kaun and Timofey Mozgov. Neither has the most dangerous post game, but both will use their size to get to the free-throw line and crash the boards.

"They're more traditional big guys," USA center Tyson Chandler said, "kind of what we see more in our league."

Former Blazer Sergei Monia is Russia's best shooter, hitting 15 of his 32 attempts from 3-point range in the tournament.

Russia's defense
95.0 points allowed per 100 possessions (5th of 24 teams through Tuesday)

Russia will mix up its defenses. It played mostly man against New Zealand on Monday, but will also utilize a 2-3 matchup zone and slow the pace of the game. As noted above, Russia will be very physical, using its size and strength on the perimeter. The Russians will gladly take a foul to stop a fast break or drive to the basket.

Russia has been the second-best team at defending the 3-point line, allowing opponents to shoot just 28 percent from beyond the arc. And the Russians have been the fifth-best defensive rebounding team, grabbing 73 percent of available defensive boards. They have pressed at times, but that's a risky ploy with the U.S. team's quickness in the backcourt.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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