U.S. Men Play Argentina for Shot at Gold

Thursday, August 26th 2004, 10:31 am
By: News On 6

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ The United States and Argentina will go after each other again in the Olympic men's basketball semifinals Friday, and if their latest performances carry over, it'll be difficult for the South American rivals to win.

The game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. EDT tipoff, with the winner advancing to the gold-medal game against either Lithuania or Italy, who play at 3:15 p.m. Lithuania used a barrage of 3-pointers to beat the U.S. team in the preliminary round 94-90 last Saturday. Italy routed the Americans by 17 points in an exhibition 12 days before their Olympic opener.

Against previously unbeaten Spain on Thursday, the U.S. team broke out of a shooting slump that had spanned the entire tournament, getting a team-record 31 points from Stephon Marbury and making 12 3-pointers to win 102-94.

Argentina, which made history in 2002 by becoming the first team ever to defeat a U.S. squad of NBA players, reached Saturday's semis with a 69-64 victory over Greece.

Lithuania and Italy, both of which recently defeated the United States, will meet in the other semifinal.

Lithuania defeated China 95-75, and Italy downed Puerto Rico 83-70.

``Just a few years ago we would play the U.S. for the fun of it and try to keep the difference as low as possible,'' Argentina's Walter Herrmann said. ``Now we can compete with them. We're an equal team, even though they have the stars. If we focus and play according to our game plan, we'll have a very good chance against them.''

But if Argentina plays as poorly as it did for long stretches against Greece, and if the Americans continue to show as much improvement as they did against Spain, Argentina's chances are slim.

The U.S. squad simply isn't the same team it was shortly after its arrival in Greece. Shots are starting to fall, the players' confidence keeps growing and they're beginning to look like the team to beat.

Who'd have figured? Especially after they lost opening round games to Puerto Rico and Lithuania.

``Guys are well aware of how we've been playing from the beginning of the Olympics. Guys' mindsets are that if we don't come out and we don't play from the jump, these teams are so good, we're not going to give ourselves the opportunity to win,'' Marbury said.

In a game that ended with the opposing coaches swearing and pointing at one another, Marbury's point total surpassed the mark of 30 points shared by Charles Barkley (1992 vs. Brazil) and Adrian Dantley (1976 vs. Yugoslavia), and his six 3s broke the record of five set by Reggie Miller against China in 1996.

The Americans finished 12-for-22 on 3-pointers after shooting a tournament-low 24 percent in their first five games.

``We've been playing against so much zone, it doesn't really matter anymore,'' Marbury said. ``We're starting to like playing against zones.''

Argentina coach Ruben Magnano did not answer directly when asked if his team would play a tight 2-3 zone as most of the Americans' other opponents have, though he did give a hint by saying his team would focus on stopping Tim Duncan.

But Duncan wasn't much of a factor against Spain, and the Americans still were able to play at a higher level than anything they'd previously shown.

``They looked motivated, and it'll be hard to beat them if they keep playing like that,'' said Spain's Pau Gasol, who scored 29 points but was held to just four in the final quarter.

Leading 82-78 with 4:20 remaining, Marbury came up with a steal and hit his sixth 3-pointer. Spain got within five with 1:55 left, but Marbury answered by scoring on a drive.

A little extra hard work certainly paid off for him.

Marbury had spent 90 minutes shooting jumpers in an empty gym Wednesday on the team's day off, trying to rediscover his touch after scoring a total of just 21 points in the first five games and missing 24 of 30 attempts.

Allen Iverson added 16 points, making three 3-pointers, and the Americans finally resembled U.S. teams from the past three Olympics. They didn't get rattled by a large disparity in fouls (27-18), they knocked down their free throws to maintain the lead in the final two minutes and they became the first team in the tournament to score more than 100 points.

Several Spanish players threw their hands up and stared at the American bench in disgust when Brown called a timeout with 23 seconds left and his team ahead by 11.

Brown tried to rescind it but the officials wouldn't allow it, and Spain coach Mario Pesquera confronted Brown as the teams left.

``I had _ and I stress the word 'had' _ a lot of respect for Larry Brown,'' said Pesquera, who smirked and shook his head when he heard Brown's explanation during the postgame news conference. ``Dean Smith would have never done anything like that.''

Brown said he would never try to embarrass anybody.

``I tried to apologize, I tried to explain, and he kept saying something about the NBA,'' Brown said. ``Hopefully I'll learn to handle these situations, which are new to me, a little bit better.''


Argentina 69, Greece 64

Argentina held Greece without a field goal for 5 1/2 minutes until Nikolaos Chatzivrettas made a 3-pointer with 35.6 seconds left to cut Greece's deficit to 65-64. Luis Scola was fouled and skinned his right elbow as he fell to the floor. Wearing a bandage over the cut, he swished both free throws and then got his hand on Fragkiscos Alvertis' 3-point attempt. Manu Ginobili grabbed the rebound, was fouled and made both free throws to lock up the win.


Lithuania 95, China 75

Reserve guard Arvydas Macijauskas had 32 points for Lithuania (6-0), which overcame 29 points from Yao Ming.


Italy 83, Puerto Rico 70

Massimo Bulleri scored 20 points and Gianluca Basile had 18 for Italy, which defeated the U.S. team by 17 points in an Olympic tuneup match.