By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
LAS VEGAS, Aug. 28 -- The focused look on Kobe Bryant's face before the U.S. men's basketball team tipped off Tuesday gave some indication of what was in store for Puerto Rico: The Americans weren't about to let another inferior opponent hang around longer than necessary.
The United States had learned its lesson Monday night against Mexico. Although the Americans won by 27 points, they were disappointed in their overall effort, blaming everything from tired legs to the sparse crowd for their lack of energy.
That wasn't the case against Puerto Rico, as the U.S. team got back to playing suffocating defense and efficient offense and won, 117-78, to clinch a spot in Saturday's semifinals.
For the first time in this Olympic qualifying tournament, a player other than Carmelo Anthony led the United States in scoring, as LeBron James had a game-high 21 points. Anthony had 17 points, Michael Redd 15, Bryant 14 and Amare Stoudemire pitched in with 12 points and a game-high eight rebounds as the Americans improved to 32-0 all-time in this tournament.
The United States will play Uruguay on Wednesday and conclude the second round Thursday against Argentina, the only other unbeaten team in the tournament.
The U.S. team's first loss in Olympic play using professional players was to Puerto Rico in Athens in 2004. James, Anthony and Stoudemire were members of that U.S. team, but all three were mostly spectators for the historic loss. James and Anthony were able to exact some revenge in the world championships last summer with an 11-point win in Japan.
Anthony, whose late father was from Puerto Rico, has a tattoo of the Puerto Rican flag near the thumb of his right hand. He said he has scrimmaged and played against Puerto Rico enough times to not get emotional.
"I'm way past that," he said.
Puerto Rico, coming off a surprising win over Brazil on Monday, was considered one of the teams with an outside chance to be one of the two qualifying teams when this tournament began. Instead, it has been one of the more up-and-down teams, and wouldn't have advanced to the second round without an assist from Argentina, which beat Panama in overtime of the final preliminary round game.
The Puerto Ricans trailed just 16-13 early in the game. But when Dallas Mavericks point guard Jose Barea brought Puerto Rico within 22-15 late in the first quarter, the team would go almost seven minutes without another field goal. And, by the time Carlos Arroyo ended the drought with a three-pointer, Puerto Rico trailed by 26 points.
Anthony and James combined for 19 points in the second period, as the Americans outscored the Puerto Ricans 35-10 and took a 59-27 lead into halftime. Arroyo, a point guard for the Orlando Magic, had 24 points in Puerto Rico's 92-73 victory in 2004, but he had just 12 points Tuesday. Elias Ayuso, who was also on the 2004 team, led Puerto Rico with 13 points.
U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski went back to his original starting lineup, with Jason Kidd and Dwight Howard, and he shortened his rotation by keeping Deron Williams, Tyson Chandler and Mike Miller on the bench until the team had built a 20-point lead in the second quarter.
Tayshaun Prince also returned after missing Monday's game against Mexico because of a sprained left ankle.