July 11, 2009
AUCKLAND, New Zealand--It was a perfectly fittingly ending for a team that has been proving with each and every victory that it is truly a team. Because in the end it was a collection of critical plays by the USA team that earned them a hard fought 81-77 semifinals win over Croatia (6-2) and a berth in Sunday's FIBA U19 World Championship gold medal game in Auckland, New Zealand.
The USA, which last won gold in this event in 1991, will meet Greece (6-2) in the gold medal game on Sunday, 7:30 p.m. (Auckland, New Zealand time). Greece advanced to the gold medal contest after posting the upset of the tournament, an 84-69 shocker over previously undefeated Australia (7-1). The gold medal game will be a rematch between the two teams with the USA having claimed an 85-69 victory over the Greeks in second round play on July 6.
Pitt's Ashton Gibbs started his fourth consecutive game and contributed 11 points in 23 minutes of action. In Team USA's eight games, Gibbs is averaging 9.4 points, 2.4 assists and a team-leading 22.6 minutes per game. He has made five starts and hit 11 3-pointers.
Head Coach Jamie Dixon has guided the squad to an undefeated 8-0 record. Similar to the way his Pitt teams win games, the Americans have outrebounded opponents by a 7.6 rebounds per game margin (41.4-33.8) and limited opponents to 37.9 percent (195-515) shooting.
All 11 healthy USA players scored in the game, Gordan Hayward (Butler / Brownsburg, Ind.) led the way with a USA best 15 points and added eight rebounds. Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh / Scotch Plains, N.J.) scored 11 points, and Seth Curry (Duke / Charlotte, N.C.) and Terrico White (Mississippi / Memphis, Tenn.) each tossed in 10 points. Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas / Jersey City, N.J.) added nine points, while USA big men, Howard Thompkins (Georgia / Lithonia, Ga.) and Arnett Moultrie (UTEP / Memphis, Tenn.), each scored eight points, with Thompkins grabbing a U.S. best eight rebounds and Moultrie snagging six.
Despite leading by as many as 16 points in the first half, the USA trailed 59-57 heading into the fourth quarter after Croatia outscored them 26-11 in the third period. The two squads battled for control and with 3:14 remaining the scored was knotted at 70 all.
With the game up for grabs, the U.S. made the plays it had to in order to pull out the win. Hayward started the string of game deciding plays when he drove baseline and slammed home two to give the USA a 72-70 lead with 3:14 remaining. It was a lead the U.S. never relinquished. Hayward's Butler University teammate Shelvin Mack (Butler / Lexington, Ky.) cushioned the USA's lead to 74-70 after he hit a 14 foot jumper, his only make from the field on the evening, with 2:31 to play.
Fouls were called on the next three possessions and while Croatia was only able to convert on 2-of-4 free throws, Taylor made 1-of-2 free throws and with 1:45 on the clock the U.S. was clinging to a 75-72 advantage.
Hayward was fouled with 57 seconds to go and calmly converted on both to make it 77-72. But Croatia rushed down court and guard Dino Butorac drilled his fifth 3-pointer of the game to make the score 79-77 with 42 seconds remaining.
The U.S. worked the clock down and White's rushed shot was wide of the rim and as it bounced over the endline, Hayward jumped, grabbed the ball, and flung it back to Taylor who was standing behind the 3-point line. With the shot clock about to expire, Taylor heaved a long three that hit rim just a fraction before shot clock was to expire, and USA forward John Shurna (Northwestern / Glen Ellyn, Ill.) came up with the huge offensive board in the scramble. Shurna managed to pass the ball to Hayward, who was fouled as he looked to score.
Shooting two free throws with 14.6 seconds on the clock, Hayward again sank both to push the USA's ahead 79-75. Croatia's Toni Prostran sprinted the length of the court for a layup, and with 10.1 seconds to play the score stood at 79-77.
Inbounding the ball to Gibbs, he was immediately fouled. Going to the line for two free throws with 9.4 seconds to go, Gibbs made both to up the USA lead to 81-77, and after Croatia missed a pair of threes in the closing seconds, the USA had the win.
It took the Americans almost four minutes and eight shots before they put points on the scoreboard. Croatia jumped out 6-0 as the USA missed its first seven shots, four of those threes.
Following a USA called timeout, the U.S. went inside and Moultrie finally got the USA on the scoreboard at the 6:14 mark.
The red, white and blue kept it going and with 4:09 left in the opening stanza had moved out to an 11-6 advantage. Finding its shooting eye, the USA closed the quarter with White hitting a pair of threes, Curry added another, and when Thompkins deposited a miss with a second showing, the USA owned a 22-16 lead after one quarter.
Scoring the first seven points of the second quarter, the lead was exanded to 29-16. The two teams traded baskets and slowly Croatia worked the lead down and following a hoop by Toni Prostran the led was down to nine, 39-30.
Curry, who finished the first half with 10 points, scored five points in a 7-0 USA run that the U.S. up 46-30, and when Croatia's Tomislav Zubcic made a 3-point shot with three second to go before half, the USA went to its locker room leading 46-33.
FIBA UNDER-19 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
FINAL FOUR/MEDAL ROUND PAIRINGS
Saturday, July 11, Auckland, New Zealand
Greece 84, Australia 69
USA 81, Croatia 77
Sunday, July 12, Auckland, New Zealand
Bronze Medal Game: Australia (7-1) vs. Croatia (6-2), 5 p.m.
Gold Medal Game: USA (8-0) vs. Greece (6-2), 7:30 p.m.
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