July 15, 2003
THESSALONIKI, Greece (July 14, 2003) -- Giving its most impressive performance to date, powered by a 23 point and nine rebound effort by De'Angelo Alexander (Oklahoma/Midwest City, Okla.) the USA (4-0) crushed Puerto Rico (2-2) 106-72 Monday afternoon in opening quarterfinal play at the 2003 FIBA Junior World Championship For Men. The United States continues quarterfinal action Tuesday, facing 4-1 Lithuania who Monday handed previously unbeaten Australia (3-1) a 96-87 setback.
Ryan Hollins, 6-11 sophomore center from UCLA, starting his second consecutive contest, played 19 minutes, scoring seven points (2-6, 0-0, 3-6), with seven rebounds (4-3), three assists, one blocked shot and two steals. In four games, Hollins is averaging 16.5 minutes, 6.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists and shooting 56.3 (9-16) from the field and 64.3 (9-14) from the foul line.
"Last year during the qualifying tournament, Puerto Rico won the championship in Venezuela and it gave us the opportunity to have a lot of respect for them. We knew they were a very good team. Today we brought our best game because we respected them so much. We shot the ball very well and rebounded the ball very well and I believe that was the difference," offered USA head coach Ernie Kent.
"I think this might be a little bit of a break through game for us to get back in our rhythm and get comfortable playing over here. We played extremely well today and there was a great rhythm to the game. We've got some opponents coming up, however that have the ability to control the game and slow it down. So it's going to be our system vs. their system because we want continue to play as fast as we can play to utilize our athleticism.
"Defense allows us to score a lot of points. It keys our transition, everything we do is centered around defending people and shutting them down," continued Kent. "I thought we did an excellent job, they had one player who had a big game, but one player can not beat you. We did a good job of shutting everybody else down and that gave us the opportunity to get into transition and if we get out to run we're a pretty good team."
In this game, the USA out ran, out shot, out rebounded and out defended Puerto Rico, the winners of the 2002 FIBA Americas Junior World Championship Qualifying Tournament, en route to claiming their fourth straight win.
The U.S. juniors led the entire way, jumping out to a 17-10 advantage in the game's first 6:28. But behind a one-man show by Puerto Rico guard Jose Barea, who was a freshman at Northeastern University (Mass.) last season, Puerto Rico hung around, for a brief while.
Scoring 16 of his team's 19 first quarter points, Barea helped Puerto Rico battle back and pull within three, 22-19, with 1:29 left. However, 6-10 forward Kevin Pittsnogle (West Virginia/Martinsburg, W.Va.) answered the call for the U.S., knocking down a jumper and a 3-pointer in the opening quarter's final minute to push the Americans back out ahead 27-19.
Continuing to rely on Barea who added four more points, Puerto Rico sliced the lead to 33-29 with 6:02 remaining before halftime. Getting eight points from Daniel Brown (Illinois/Maywood, Ill.) and five from Alexander, the U.S. launched a 15-3 run to grab control 45-31 with 1:42 to play in quarter two. At halftime the USA led comfortably, 48-34.
The USA defense clamped down Puerto Rico in the second quarter and held them to 4-of-11 shooting (36.4 percent) from the field. Meanwhile, the USA's shooting warmed only slightly. After making a frigid 37.9 percent (11-29 FGs) in the first quarter, the Americans sank just 38.8 percent (7-18 FGs.) in the second quarter. The real difference was rebounding and turnovers in the first 20 minutes. Owning control of the boards to the tune of 29-18, the U.S. had 15 offensive boards. The U.S. defense also forced Puerto Rico into committing 15 turnovers, while the U.S. was whistled for just four.
The third quarter was more bad news for Puerto Rico as the USA poured it on over the final five minutes and when the horn sounded to end the third stanza, the USA owned a 71-50 advantage. The romp continued in the fourth quarter as the USA outscored Puerto Rico 35-22 in the fourth period with Maurice Ager (Michigan State/Detroit, Mich.) pouring in 14 points as the USA finished off the impressive showing.
The USA's shooting heated up in the second half as the Americans shot 56.4 percent, making 22-of-39 shots. Puerto Rico finished shooting 42.9 percent from the floor and made 29 turnovers.
In addition to Alexander's 23 points, which came on 10-of-17 shooting, Daniel Brown finished the day with 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds, while sinking 4-of-7 from 3-point. Ager finished with 15 points, Paul Davis (Michigan State/Rochester, Mich.) contributed 13 points and added nine rebounds, and Mustafa Shakur (Friends Central High School/Philadelphia, Pa.) added 10 points. Puerto Rico's Barea led all scorers with 35 points (13-22 FGs).
"Because we had only a short amount of time to prepare to come over here, the games here are getting us the opportunity to get better. With each game we're getting a little better and hopefully that will continue for the next game. As a coach I think we can still play better," stated Kent.
In the other Group G game played Monday, Lithuania upset previously undefeated Australia 96-87, while in Group H, Turkey stunned previous unbeaten Croatia 87-78. In the consolation quarterfinals round, Venezuela scored a 103-84 victory over South Korea, China pounded Angola 87-64, and Nigeria ran over Iran 78-53. The evening games to be played feature host and undefeated Greece taking on Slovenia.
The 7th Annual FIBA Men's Junior World Championship is being held July 10-20 in Thessaloniki, Greece. Featuring 16 junior national teams that qualified last summer, eligibility for the 2003 USA Basketball Men's Junior World Championship Team is limited to any male athlete who is a U.S. citizen and 19-years-old or younger (born on or before Jan. 1, 1984).