USA Basketball’s Bumpy World Cup Journey: Overcoming Early Setbacks

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USA Basketball’s journey in the FIBA World Cup took an unexpected turn when they faced Lithuania, a formidable opponent. Despite a challenging start and their first defeat of the summer, the American team’s World Cup hopes are still very much alive. In this article, we’ll explore the thrilling matchup between USA Basketball and Lithuania and what lies ahead for the team.

A Slow Start: USA’s First Defeat

Throughout the FIBA World Cup, Team USA struggled with slow starts, and this vulnerability finally caught up with them in their clash with Lithuania. The hot-shooting Lithuanian squad took control right from the game’s opening minutes, setting the stage for an intense battle. The final scoreline read 110-104 in favor of Lithuania, marking USA Basketball’s first loss of the tournament. This defeat left the Americans with a 4-1 record in the group stage, securing their place as the No. 2 seed.

Coach Kerr’s Unbeaten Streak Meets Its Match

Prior to this loss, Coach Steve Kerr had guided USA Basketball to an impressive 9-0 record in pretournament exhibitions and World Cup group games. However, the team’s consistent slow starts were a cause for concern, even in victories over New Zealand and Greece. Kerr decided to shake things up by altering the starting lineup, replacing Brandon Ingram with Josh Hart before a group stage win over Jordan.

Lithuania’s Dominant First Half

Despite the lineup change, USA Basketball found themselves trailing significantly in the early stages of the game. Lithuania built a commanding 21-point lead in the second quarter and went into halftime with a 54-37 advantage. The Lithuanian shooters were on fire, going a perfect 9-for-9 on three-pointers. Meanwhile, the Americans struggled to find their rhythm and heavily relied on Anthony Edwards for first-half offense. Adding to their troubles, Jaren Jackson Jr., the team’s defensive anchor, got into foul trouble, allowing Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas to dominate the paint.

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A Glimmer of Hope: USA’s Second-Half Comeback

Recognizing their precarious situation, USA Basketball stormed out of halftime with a 9-0 run, narrowing Lithuania’s lead to just six points by the end of the third quarter. Despite a technical foul assessed to Lithuania’s Coach Kazys Maksvytis, the Americans couldn’t disrupt their opponent’s composure. In the fourth quarter, they came close to closing the gap, thanks to baskets by Tyrese Haliburton, Brandon Ingram, and Jalen Brunson. However, Mindaugas Kuzminskas delivered a crucial three-pointer as the shot clock expired, giving Lithuania some much-needed breathing room.

Lithuania’s Collective Effort

Lithuania’s victory was a testament to their collective strength. Seven Lithuanian players finished in double figures, with Vaidas Kariniauskas leading the way with 15 points. The team’s remarkable three-point shooting (56 percent) and a dominant rebounding performance (43-27) were key factors in their success. Lithuania showcased their depth and skill throughout the game, making them a formidable contender in the tournament.

Edwards’ Heroics Not Enough

Anthony Edwards had a stellar game, finishing with a game-high 35 points on 14-of-26 shooting. His heroic efforts in the closing minutes nearly closed the gap, but Mikal Bridges’ missed three-pointer in the final seconds dashed USA Basketball’s hopes of a comeback. Bridges and Brunson contributed with 14 points each in the losing effort.

Looking Ahead: Knockout Round

Despite the setback, USA Basketball has advanced to the FIBA World Cup’s knockout round, where they are set to face Italy. A victory over Italy, who finished as Group I’s top seed with a 4-1 record, would open the door to a semifinal matchup against either Germany or Brazil. This presents the Americans with a golden opportunity to reach the coveted gold medal game on September 10th. However, a loss to Italy would mean elimination, and the pressure is on for Team USA to regroup and perform at their best.

Lithuania’s Medal Quest

Lithuania, with a rich basketball history, is aiming for its first FIBA World Cup medal since 2010. Their roster boasts experienced players, including NBA veteran Jonas Valanciunas. Despite the absence of star player Domantas Sabonis, Lithuania has demonstrated their strength as a team. With bronze medals in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympics, they are determined to make their mark on the World Cup stage.

In conclusion, USA Basketball’s journey in the FIBA World Cup has had its share of challenges, but their dreams of success are far from over. As they prepare to face Italy in the knockout round, fans eagerly await the next chapter in their quest for glory. Meanwhile, Lithuania continues their pursuit of a long-awaited World Cup medal, making the tournament all the more thrilling to watch.

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