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Team USA brings different approach in FIBA play

Cousins, Americans adjusting to referees style of calling games

POSTED: Aug 12, 2016 9:51 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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— In the NBA last season, DeMarcus Cousins averaged 34.6 minutes per game. In three games at the 2016 Olympics, Cousins has played 34 minutes ... and committed (or at least been called for) 13 fouls.

In the last two games, Cousins has been called for nine fouls in less than 19 minutes. Both times, he had two fouls within the first three minutes of the first quarter. And two early ones are more critical in international competition, because you foul out at five, not six.

Obviously, Cousins is frustrated.

"The roughest part is just I want to go out there and help my team win," he said Thursday. "Being plagued by fouls isn't helping the situation. That's my biggest frustration. My main focus is to go out and play hard every night and do whatever it takes to help my team win."

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He also thinks the refs might be targeting him, and that the USA's opponents can sense the same thing.

"It seems like they're trying to find a way to take away our strengths as bigs," Cousins said of the refs. And of the opponents, he said, "I think they're taking advantage of the situation. I think they're well aware of what's going on as well."

USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski believes Cousins' early fouls aren't necessarily about him.

"A couple of the times, they're not fouls," Krzyzewski said. "They're just not fouls. But early on in the game, people like to set a tone in how the game is administered. So sometimes, they set it in the post. And so something is called a little bit closer than it would be five minutes later.

"I just told him, 'You're a human being. You should be frustrated. Let's just move on to the next thing and see if we can handle that going forward, because we need you.' In the amount of minutes he's been in there, he's performed very well. We need him to play more."

Though he thinks tight officiating is more of an issue in the opening minutes, Krzyzewski isn't going to change his starting lineup to keep Cousins away from any tone-setting.

"I'd rather have him try to adapt to how it's going to be done," Krzyzewski said. "I'd rather start him and have him adjust."

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Cousins has been a force on the glass for the U.S. He has 18 rebounds (10 offensive) in those 34 minutes. But the foul trouble hasn't allowed him to get much of a rhythm offensively or develop much chemistry with fellow starters Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. (Paul George started instead of Klay Thompson against Australia on Wednesday and will start again vs. Serbia on Friday.)

But with all the fouls and all the frustration, we haven't seen much acting out from the NBA's leader in technical fouls last season. In fact, we don't see much acting out from any of the Americans, who are far more vociferous and expressive about officiating in the NBA than they are in international competition. Technical fouls (which also count toward your personal-foul total) are rare with this team.

That's because Krzyzewski sets his own tone in regard to how his team reacts to the officiating. For the most part, they don't.

"That's one of our standards and we try to implement it throughout," Krzyzewski said. "That doesn't mean they don't react sometimes, but it's not to the level [that it is in the NBA], because one, the other team would know they're getting to you. Two, those officials, it's an honor for them to ref in the Olympics and it's an honor for them to ref our game. By doing something, we might disrespect them. You don't want to do that with anybody."

In coaching the national team, Krzyzewski learned quickly that he can't yell at a FIBA official like he would yell at one in the ACC.

"They're not accustomed to that," he said. "In the college game, the officials are more accustomed to a bench saying, 'That was a walk! That was a walk!" Whereas these guys, if a bench is saying that, they get insulted. They're more sensitive to that."

Krzyzewski himself has learned to ask a question, rather than bark a complaint. And he was even able to restrain himself when Andrew Bogut checked Kyrie Irving with a hard foul in front of the U.S. bench early in the third quarter on Wednesday. In the NBA, Krzyzewski believes the contact would have warranted a flagrant foul. But it was just a common foul here in Rio.

"I have a problem with [the Bogut foul]," Krzyzewski said, "but doing this for 11 years, at least for that moment, I'm able to not overreact and rather, ask an official, 'Do you think he hit him?'

"And I would talk to him like that instead of, 'What the heck are you doing?'"

The Americans are still trying to figure out how these games are called. It's possible that they never will. Krzyzewski says that it comes "only through experience," but Cousins is actually one of the six Americans who have played for the national team before.

"I don't feel there's any consistency," he said. "But my biggest thing is I can't worry about that. It's just playing through the frustration. I've let fouls frustrate me a little bit. It's just playing through it."

No excuses, no complaints.

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

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