BUENOS AIRES, AUG. 13 -- The U.S. basketball team passed a crucial test tonight -- just barely -- holding off a capable Argentine squad playing well above its head and before a wildly partisan crowd to win the first of three round-robin quarterfinal matches of the World Basketball Championships, 104-100.
The young U.S. team led by 20 in the second half and looked to be on the way to an easy win. But a series of three-pointers by gunner Hector Campana, and a few ear-shattering blasts from the home crowd, and Coach Mike Krzyzewski's charges looked almost ready to fold.
But guard Kenny Anderson took control, as he had done all night, displaying the poise that many have said he lacks. Anderson, who finished with 32 points on 13-of-18 shooting, made a key three-point play at the two-minute mark and kept the Argentines at bay to run out the final seconds.
The game was played in a tight little sweatbox called Luna Park, which could be described as the moral equivalent of Boston Garden. Fans brought bass drums and trumpets to synchronize their chanting. They made a frightful noise, one that lifted the Argentine players and gave the Americans chills.
"Were they calling me any names?" Krzyzewski asked later.
Even when the Argentines were way behind, the stomping and screaming continued. When they got close, it was impossible to hear the referees' whistles, to say nothing of signals from the bench.
But the U.S. team survived, mainly due to Anderson. He consistently came up with the answer to each Argentine run -- a steal, a great pass (he finished with five assists), a dunk and a Jordanesque layup, which drew applause from even the Argentines.
Alonzo Mourning also had a big game (17 points, seven rebounds), controlling the middle despite obvious strategy to manhandle him. He too had heard the crowd. "They made a big difference," he said. "The Argentines got their whole initiative from the crowd."
Campana, who had a game-high 33 points, and his teammates looked almost as happy as the U.S. players after the game. For the Americans, there was relief and a sense that they had undergone a rite of passage: They had survived.
In another quarterfinal, what was supposed to be a close game between two leading contenders turned into a rout, as the powerful Yugoslavian team, led by two National Basketball Association regulars, steamrolled a highly regarded team from Brazil, 105-86.
With Vlade Divac of the Los Angeles Lakers dominating the lane and Drazen Petrovic of the Portland Trail Blazers shooting three-pointers, Yugoslavia demonstrated convincingly why it is widely favored to repeat its Goodwill Games triumph of a few weeks ago and win this championship.
After an out-of-character first-round loss to Puerto Rico last week, the Yugoslavs were suddenly suspect. Now that the quarterfinal round has begun, nobody doubts them anymore.
Brazil was reduced to depending solely on its scoring-machine forward, Oscar Schmidt, who poured in 40 points with a remarkable array of shots. But the contest resembled one of those playoff games between the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls -- and Schmidt, good as he is, is no Michael Jordan.
Divac -- who finished with 14 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists -- made his most important contribution on defense, setting up in the lane and taking away the baseline-oriented offense that Brazil was trying so hard to establish. Time and again Brazil whipped the ball around to a forward down low only to be forced into a bad shot or a turnover by Divac's defense.
Meanwhile, Petrovic directed the team's precise, spread-the-wealth offense, and added 27 points, including five three-pointers.
Twenty-two-year-old Toni Kukoc, a 6-foot-9 forward who was drafted by the NBA Bulls but plans to play in Yugoslavia at least through next year, scored 20 points with an impressive array of one-on-one moves.
Falling out of bounds after being fouled on a breakaway, Kukoc still put a soft shot up and in, then coolly completed the three-point play at the free throw line. It was a prime-time sequence.
Also today, the Soviet Union ground out an uninspiring victory over Greece, 75-57.