SEATTLE, JULY 25 -- Oscar Schmidt had seen this basketball game somewhere before. So had Alexander Gomelski. And they were not surprised it happened again.

On Tuesday night in the Goodwill Games, the United States lost a game to a much-maligned Soviet Union all-star team, 92-85, although the Americans came back to win tonight against Italy, 113-76, and advanced to the medal round.

In 1987, at the Pan American Games, Brazil, led by the outside shooting of Schmidt, upset the United States. In 1988, at the Olympics, the Soviets, led by venerable coach Gomelski, surprised the Americans.

Tonight, the United States regrouped to easily defeat Italy and will play Brazil Friday in the semifinals. The Americans could face the Soviets once more in the gold medal game.

In a total about-face, the U.S. team could do nothing wrong against the Italians. The Americans were led by guard Kenny Anderson's 19 points, while Todd Day scored 15 and Doug Smith had 14. Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning totaled 11 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.

It once was a certainty that a U.S. team, usually a hastily gathered collection of college all-stars, would beat any international competitors. The only time it didn't happen for years and years was at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, when officials reset the clock three times to give the Soviet Union a chance to win the championship, which it finally did.

It now happens with such regularity that the international basketball community barely raises an eyebrow the morning after.

"I don't think anything's wrong with the United States team," Schmidt said today, a few hours before the U.S. team faced Italy, with a berth in Friday's semifinals on the line. "I think FIBA {the international federation of basketball} has grown up. Now, the level of play is tight between amateur basketball in the United States and basketball around the world. Now, the basketball world is tight."

Just as the world has caught up with the Americans in Olympic swimming, diving and track, it also has caught up in amateur basketball, a sport now played around the world. But there is more to it than that, say observers of the international sport.

The U.S. teams that have lost in major international competitions have not done well strategically. They have been eaten alive by three-point shooting. They have tried to force the ball inside -- just as in college -- but the key is bigger, the big men seem lost, and fewer fouls are called, so the rewards are not as great. On defense, they seem lost, uncertain how to handle teams that don't even attempt to penetrate inside.

"We pass the ball around, and they pack back in there on us, and we throw it out for a three," Gomelski, now the president of the Soviet basketball federation, told reporters after the game.

"Second, we want to control the ball. That's our tactic. On defense, we tell our guys to concentrate inside. When the United States is shooting the three, they are only okay. Inside, they are strong."

The Soviet-U.S. game provided perfect evidence. Led by 1988 Olympian Valeri Tikhonenko, who scored 30 points, the Soviets were eight of 15 from three-point range. The Americans finished only three of 13, and Arkansas guard Lee Mayberry, one of the players the United States team wants to rely upon most, was a miserable zero for five.

"The three-pointers are just one problem," Schmidt said. "Basketball is not just shooting. It's in their head to play inside. Their mentality is to get the ball inside. It's difficult to change that mentality after 50 years."

"It's a very different game the U.S. plays," emphasized Brazil's Marcel Souza, like Schmidt a veteran of the Pan American Games and the Olympics. "Because the U.S. wants to go inside every time, every time. To win in international competition, you have to have other weapons."

Souza said the officials don't help the young, inexperienced U.S. players, either.

"The international referees don't protect offensive players like college referees do," he said. "The referees protect the men with the ball in the U.S. In international ball, you can push him."

In fairness to the American team in the Goodwill Games, this is their first competition on the way to the world championships next month in Argentina. The U.S. players are young, they have never played under international rules before and they have not played together previously.

But the same is true for the Soviets. This time, no one could say the Soviet players have been together for 1,000 years. This time, the Soviets are a team of all-stars, thrown together only recently, just as with the Americans.

They are without the Lithuanians, who refused to play because of the political situation in the Soviet Union. And the Lithuanians are the best basketball players in the U.S.S.R., accounting for all but 20 points in the Soviets' 82-76 victory over the United States in the Seoul Games.

"We had almost the same circumstances as the U.S. team," said new Soviet Coach Vladas Garastas. "We got together in May. We are practically a new team, like the Americans."

The obvious solution for the United States is to allow professionals to join up, which will happen for the 1992 Olympics. But, even then, despite their talent, they will be inexperienced internationally and still will not have much experience playing together.

"The NBA is a big level up from FIBA right now," Schmidt said. "But if we start to play against them, in 10 years that will be tight too."