U.S. Moves to 3-0 in Group Play
Americans control tempo against Slovenia
SAPPORO, JAPAN, August 22, 2006 -- Here's the checklist as to how to beat Slovenia, the strongest team the U.S. has faced in group play thus far: control the pace and don't get beat by its long-ball shooters.
Check and check.
The U.S., on the other hand, hit 10-of-20 from downtown on the game and shot 56 percent from the field overall. Much of this was again due to the fact the team was sharing the ball (21 assists on 40 buckets), creating turnovers (25), scoring off those turnovers (28 points) and getting out on the break (26 fast break points).
"We tried to push the tempo today and we did a good job of that," Shane Battier said. "Slovenia did a very nice job of pushing the ball back at us. We know Italy has more talent than Slovenia, so it'll be a tough game for us tomorrow."
The Italians are a team, much like Slovenia, that can bury you from beyond the arc if a shooter -- or shooters; they have many -- gets hot. Tonight against Senegal, they were ice cold from the field but came up with just enough to get the win.
Despite hitting only 10-of-37 in the first half -- including 4-of-20 from three -- the Azzurri was still down by only three points, 31-28, at the break.
Senegal opened a double-digit lead in the third, only to collapse in the fourth when Italy's shooters finally began to find the bottom of the twine.
The U.S. coaching staff, which took in the action before its own contest, knows it's unlikely Italy will be misfiring two nights in a row. So the Americans will have to force their opponent to miss.
"We'll try to be all over them," USA assistant Mike D'Antoni explained. "That's a big part of our game -- the speed and the tempo to wear out their legs and jump on them as hard as we can defensively and run them as hard as we can offensively. So far it's worked pretty well."
IN A ZONE
Another point of focus for the U.S. team is how to crack the zone these international teams employ. One way it found success was by sharing the ball. As mentioned above, the U.S. registered an assist on more than half of its buckets. By moving the ball, the zone is forced to shift and space opens up for you to get to the rim.
Even when players were pulling up for jumpers, the shots were falling with enough regularity to keep Slovenia's defense honest. This allowed players to penetrate that defense for easier scoring opportunities.
Then there's the easy way: over it. Late in the second quarter, Chris Paul set up with the ball at the top of three-point arc and threw a lob over Slovenia's D to a cutting Dwyane Wade for the vicious finish.
NOW THAT I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION
Coach K got the attention of everybody in the building when he cleared his bench at the 5:13 mark of the first quarter. Krzyzewski continues to assert that he's going to wear down the opposition by playing guys for short periods of time, telling his players not to hold back or pace themselves when they're in the game.
To drive that point home, he inserted Joe Johnson, Kirk Hinrich, Antawn Jamison, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all at the same time, replacing the starters: LeBron James, Shane Battier, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony.
"We'll probably continue to do that," D'Antoni said after the game. "It keeps everybody engaged and fired up and it's worked pretty good that way. It gets everybody thinking on the same page. Coach K came up with (the idea). It's fun to see (the fans') reactions."
Krzyzewski also swapped five for five at the five-minute mark of the third quarter.
"I like it," Dwyane Wade said. "I don't know how much coach is going to keep it that way but hopefully (he will). I like it. It gives us a chance to know that we're only going to be out there for five minutes, so go very hard. And, also, it's two different teams you'll see; the first team is very different than the second team. It's helped us out tremendously, so hopefully we'll stick with it for a little while."