SEATTLE, JULY 29 -- This, perhaps, is what the U.S. basketball program may have to get used to unless the Magics, Jordans and Barkleys suit up. The United States lost for the second time in these Goodwill Games tonight, an 85-79 defeat that gave the gold medal to Yugoslavia, which simply has more talented and more experienced players at several positions.
Much will be made of the Americans having played so little -- only three weeks -- together. And that is true. But Yugoslavia had its second best all-around player go down with a sprained ankle in the first half, had its starting and backup center foul out down the stretch and still won. The Yugoslavs, who started three men who either have played or will play in the NBA, are already pros. The Americans, talented as they are, are wanna-bes.
In a few years, Billy Owens, Kenny Anderson and Alonzo Mourning probably will be able to handle any European team. Not now. Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and the Yugoslavs controlled the game pretty much from start to finish, even without 6-foot-11 Boston Celtic-to-be Dino Radja and 290-pound Radisav Curcic, both of whom fouled out in the final four minutes.
They won because one of the less-heralded Yugoslavian players -- Jurij Zdovc -- made nine of 10 shots to lead his team with 21 points. His play, the all-court wizardry of Kukoc (17 points, 10 assists) and superior passing compensated for a lack of rebounding and 23 points by Syracuse star Billy Owens.
The U.S. has now lost in recent years to Brazil (1987 Pan American Games), the Soviet Union (1988 Summer Olympics and these Goodwill Games) and now Yugoslavia.
A quick check of the box score will help understand why. Americans dunk better than anybody, but they have fallen far behind in ballhandling and outside shooting. Guess how many three-pointers the U.S. team had? Try one. One for 11. Owens hit that one with 2:59 to play. That was it for the outside shooting. Yugoslavia was five for 12 from three-point range; Kukoc was three for six. The U.S. back court missed 26 of 31 shots. "I can't really say why, but we were definitely missing," Owens said.
The Yugoslavs had 21 assists to 12 for the U.S.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said he thought the offense's lack of execution wasn't from lack of effort, but from lack of playing time. Playing together time. Everybody wanted to step forward, but at the same time. Or at the wrong time.
"I feel bad for them," Krzyzewski said. "It's frustrating. You can see it on their faces. They don't know that they can't do something because they need to play together another month. . . . It's not like nobody wanted to step forward. There were probably too many kids saying, 'I need to get this one now, for my team.' We just weren't functioning as a five-man unit on the offensive end. . . . And if you score, you're fresher on defense. They were going back on defense frustrated."
The Yugoslavs added to that frustration by executing their offense at a very high level of efficiency when they needed to most. There was one particularly frustrating spell for the Americans when they kept getting close in the second half, but just couldn't tie the game.
They'd hit one free throw instead of two, brick a three-pointer instead of spotting a man open for a layup. "If we just could have tied it, I think we could have put more pressure on them," Krzyzewski said.
After Mourning's short jumper got the U.S. team to 65-63, Kukoc made a crossover move in the lane. Twice he had gotten pretty little finger rolls smacked in his face by Mourning, so Kukoc wasn't about to finesse this shot. With two Americans up with him, Kukoc took off about eight feet from the rim and slammed it down for a 67-63 lead.
After Kansas forward Mark Randall scored on an offensive rebound basket to make it 67-65, Radja drove the lane, put the ball on his hip, then scored while being hacked. The three-point-play-the-hard way made it 70-65 with less than seven minutes to play. And after Owens missed, the Yugoslavs scored a four-point play that is rarely seen.
Zdovc stormed the lane on Todd Day, scored the layup and drew the foul. Under international rules, a foul shot can be swatted out if it rattles around the rim. Randall alertly batted it out, but it struck Doug Smith's hand and went in the basket. Not for one point, but for two. The lead had reached 74-65. A jumper and two free throws by reserve Zoran Cutura pushed it to 78-67 with 4 1/2 minutes to play.
Owens's three-pointer cut it to 78-74, but Kukoc, a Chicago Bulls second-round draft choice, fired a pullup three-pointer that deflated the Americans. "That was a huge, huge play. A big-time play," Krzyzewski said.
The Yugoslavians, with Celtic-to-be Radja having fouled out and with ex-San Antonio Spur Zarko Paspalj having sprained his ankle in the first half, extended the lead, then held on for the victory.