USA 135, Puerto Rico 91

LAS VEGAS, Sept. 1 (AP) -- The United States has a ticket to Beijing and a team capable of cashing it in for gold.

Carmelo Anthony scored 27 points, Michael Redd had 23, and the Americans clinched a spot in the 2008 Olympics by crushing Puerto Rico 135-91 on Saturday in the semifinals of the FIBA Americas tournament.

LeBron James added 19 points and nine assists, Kobe Bryant scored 15 points, and the three stars keyed a dominant third quarter stretch that showed why the Americans will arrive in China as one of the gold medal favorites. Then they headed to the bench, where they sat while fans chanted their names in the final minutes.

Anthony made four 3-pointers during the near-perfect period, when the Americans hit 14 of 16 shots (87.5 percent), including all eight 3-pointers while outscoring Puerto Rico 43-28.

The United States finished 23-of-36 (64 percent) from behind the arc. Redd was 7-of-8, Anthony hit 6-of-7, and Mike Miller was 4-for-6.

The Americans are without a gold medal in their last three major events: the 2004 Olympics, and 2002 and '06 world championships. But they remain untouchable in the Olympic qualifier, improving to 35-0 with still only one game decided by single digits.

They will try to complete a perfect run in Sunday's final against Argentina, but the game is ultimately meaningless. Both teams locked up berths by winning their semifinal games, joining host China, world champion Spain, and zone champions Iran, Angola and Australia as teams already in the Beijing field.

Larry Ayuso scored 22 points and Carlos Arroyo added 21 for Puerto Rico, which stayed with the U.S. until a curious substitution pattern in the second quarter not that it would have mattered after what the Americans did in the third.

Still, Puerto Rico did enough here to guarantee itself games next year. Minutes away from elimination in the first round, the Puerto Ricans recovered to earn a spot along with Brazil and fifth-place Canada in next summer's Olympic qualifying tournament.

Puerto Rico and Brazil will meet Sunday for third place.

With Arroyo getting around Jason Kidd and Ayuso occasionally breaking free of Bryant for some long jumpers, Puerto Rico shot 55% and trailed only 33-27 after one quarter. The lead was still six when both went to the bench with 8:20 left.

And for some reason, that's where they stayed for the rest of the half.

The Americans quickly pushed the lead into double digits, and the Puerto Ricans couldn't do much about it especially after another starter, center Peter John Ramos, went to the bench with his third foul with 5:11 to go. Puerto Rico managed only four field goals in the period and the U.S. lead was 57-42 at halftime.

Anthony moved past Gary Payton for the most points by a U.S. player in an Olympic qualifying tournament. Anthony has 175 points, while Payton had 160 in 1999.


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