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Archive for Sunday, September 8, 2002

United States squad flops again

Spain wins fifth-place game; Yugoslavia, Argentina to tangle for gold medal today

September 8, 2002

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— The United States lost again at the World Championships on Saturday night, falling 81-75 to Spain in the fifth-place game.

It was an outcome far worse than anyone on the American team ever could have expected coming into this tournament the worst showing by a U.S. team at the World Championships.

Spain closed with a 9-0 run as the American team failed to score in the final 2:38.

The United States won its first five games of the tournament to improve to 58-0 when using NBA players in international competitions, then lost three of their final four to Argentina, Yugoslavia and Spain.

Juan Carlos Navarro, a draft pick of the Washington Wizards, led Spain with 26 points. NBA Rookie of the Year Pau Gasol had 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Former Kansas University player Raef LaFrentz led the U.S. team with 13 points, and Ben Wallace had 12. Ex-Jayhawk Paul Pierce, the team's leading scorer, did not play in the fourth quarter.

Michael Finley made one of two foul shots for a 75-72 lead, but that would be the final point for the Americans.

Navarro's two foul shots with 2:09 left made it a one-point game, and a foul shot by Jose Antonio Paraiso tied it with 1:37 remaining. Finley missed for the Americans and Gasol then missed for Spain, which grabbed the offensive rebound. Gasol's two foul shots with 52 seconds left put Spain ahead for good.

Gasol missed two free throws with 35 seconds remaining and a chance to give Spain a four-point lead, but Finley missed a three-pointer for the U.S. team at the other end.

Navarro's two free throws with 19.4 seconds left made it 79-75, and Reggie Miller was called for a double dribble at the other end.

Spain's on-court celebration was subdued, even though it was quite an accomplishment for a team that finished ninth at the 2000 Olympics.

LaFrentz sounded an ominous call before the game.

"I still think the USA is the best team in the world. I don't really think it's close," LaFrentz said. "But in saying that, these other teams have played together for quite some time, and they know each other. Chemistry beats talent every single time."

LaFrentz returns to his off-season obviously disappointed but proud he made the journey.

"The whole situation, losing a game, being out of the medal round, it's all frustrating," he said. "This was still a chance to play for the United States of America and represent your country.

"There's still something special about that."

As for the kind of basketball played in international competition, LaFrentz said the adjustment was difficult.

"The style of basketball you grow up playing is the style you're familiar with. I don't think we're comfortable with this," he said. "The games are officiated a lot differently."

Yugoslavia took control by outscoring New Zealand by 17 points in the third quarter in an 89-78 victory Saturday before a small but enthusiastic crowd of their supporters at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Yugoslavia will play Argentina, an 86-80 winner over Germany in the day's other semifinal, for the gold medal at 3 p.m. today.

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