Lights go out
Loss to Canada puts U.S. out of medal contention at WUG
KAZAN, Russia -- With 10.6 seconds left in Friday afternoon’s game and the result long since decided, the lights went out inside Kazan’s Basket Hall.
It was metaphorical.
As U.S. point guard Spencer Dinwiddie dribbled out the clock in the dark, the United States’ chances for a medal faded to black.
The Americans, who came here with a team that looked as if it had enough of the right balance, the right depth and the proper makeup to make a medal run in these World University Games, was beaten by Canada 94-85, eliminating them from medal contention.
It was a bitter loss for the U.S., which in fewer than 24 hours went from undefeated in their Group to also-ran, losing to Australia on Thursday night before coming back to lose again some 19 hours later.
“Unbelievably disappointing,” U.S. guard Luke Hancock said. “To come all this way and have such high expectations and to lose a game like this. I mean they’re a great team, but I’d say our expectations were a little more than to play for 25th [place] or whatever we have to play for now.”
The U.S. now is condemned to playing in the consolation bracket, which really is no consolation.
“We didn’t defend well enough to win this game,” Hancock said. “It’s as simple as it gets. To give up that many points, it’s going to be hard to win games.”
The U.S. was an all-star team that never found cohesion. It had about four days of real practices before this tournament began. And it had to play its final three games in three days, without any time in between to practice.
The roster was decided at the end of June in Colorado Springs, Colo. The team flew halfway around the globe and then had to play some of the best teams in the world; teams that, in many cases, have been playing together for months.
“We tried to come together,” said Hancock, who scored 27 points in the loss. “It’s tough in the short amount of time. But we should have played better.”
By contrast, Canada played a series of exhibition games in China, then had training camps in Portland and Toronto before coming to Russia.
“I think that’s huge,” said Canadian guard Kevin Pangos, who plays his college ball at Gonzaga. “The more you can play with people and learn their tendencies and build relationships with them on the court, the more trust you’ll have.
“But also the guys on this team, everyone’s team first. No one’s in it for themselves. We don’t really care who gets the spotlight. That’s been one of the strengths of this team.”
The Americans didn’t play up to the level of their individual resumes. They committed 17 turnovers and had only 16 assists and they were outscored in the paint 52-22, a sign that they were outworked.
Throughout the tournament they didn’t defend the pick and roll well and they didn’t run their own pick and rolls well.
“I guess it [lack of time together] showed a little bit,” said Pangos, who had nine points and two assists. “They played good in stretches. But you’ve seen a bunch of those guys play in college. Terrific players.
“But basketball is definitely a team game and they’ve only been together a week, so who knows how many [offensive] sets they were able to put in and how much they played with each other. That makes it really tough.”
The question is, what can USA Basketball do to make its teams, other than the Olympic team, more competitive in international competitions.
We can’t expect to keep throwing talent together and watch it gel instantly. There is no easy way to win games at this level. Even the Olympic team plays a gaggle of exhibition games and holds a lengthy training camp before it travels to the Games.
“This is really difficult for our guys because we’re basically an all-star team that has to become a national team in a very short period of time,” U.S. head coach Bob McKillop said. “To be able to take full advantage of the abilities we have to develop some habits and they’re just not accustomed to their roles. So they’re adapting to all different roles. But they emptied their tank.”
Because of the point differential in the other four games of the tournament, the U.S. had to win this game by at least 10 points. It’s a difficult way to have to play a difficult team.
“You just try to come out and be aggressive,” Hancock said. “But kind of like any other game, your first thought is to win. I wasn’t really thinking about, ‘I gotta win by 10.’ I was just thinking about winning the game.”
McKillop had trouble finding the right substitution rotations. After the U.S. jumped out to a 14-4 lead midway through the first quarter, he made his first wave of substitutions. The Americans lost their momentum and never really recovered. By the end of the quarter Canada had an 18-17 lead. It never trailed after that.
“The Canadians used a 10-man rotation that they used in their nine games in China and used in the training camps in Portland and Toronto,” McKillop said. “They had a real rhythm to their [substitution] rotations. We just didn’t have that rhythm. A lot of that has to do with that fact that all our guys are called upon to play different roles. They sacrificed as best as they could. It just didn’t work.”
But what’s the answer to this riddle?
“I think the answer to this is the continuity factor,” McKillop said. “There are players on these other teams who have been with their teams since they were 17 years old. They know their players. They know their rhythms.
“We have so many good players in the United States that everyone deserves an opportunity. I think USA Basketball does a marvelous job of giving guys opportunities. But it’s just really difficult to have that continuity, that flow from 17, 18, 19 years old. The only guy we had with that kind of experience was Doug McDermott.”
In his talk with the players after the game, McKillop tried to put this experience into perspective.
“I told them this is something to put in their memory bank,” McKillop said. “And let’s make sure when you’ve invested and committed as much as you have that there’s going to be a return. You may not know when it’s going to come back, but this return of your investment will come your way.”
The first opportunity for a return comes Sunday in the consolation bracket.