With enough confidence to talk trash before the game and a sellout crowd behind it, the Puerto Rican national team mustered enough bravado to make the U.S. team briefly break a nervous sweat.
The host team got as close as six points late in the first half, dredging up memories of Peter McNeely bull-rushing Mike Tyson at the opening bell of their heavyweight fight years ago. Like McNeely, though, Puerto Rico ended up on its back.
The unbeaten U.S. team thrashed Puerto Rico, 115-76, in the final second-round game of the Tournament of the Americas tonight. The Americans advanced to a Saturday semifinal against Argentina, a 79-77 winner over Brazil.
By virtue of its 6-2 record, Puerto Rico also advanced to the semifinals, where it will face Canada, an 84-55 victor over Venezuela. The semifinal winners will advance to Sunday's championship game. More important, they will qualify for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
"I think the crowd and the comments by the Puerto Rican team kind of inspired us a little bit," U.S. Coach Larry Brown said. "If they thought they could beat us, I don't think they should have said it."
After Wednesday night's victory over Canada, Carmelo Travieso, the former University of Massachusetts guard who is a reserve for Puerto Rico, said his team would not let the Americans run roughshod over it on its home court.
Those remarks were all the U.S. team (7-0) needed to dominate after semi-lackluster performances against Brazil and Venezuela. The Americans never trailed and made their first eight shots in jumping to a 16-5 lead.
"They did a lot of talking, and like a heavyweight fight, whoever usually does the most talking at the beginning doesn't have anything to say at the end," said U.S. guard Jason Kidd, who had seven points and four steals. Atlanta Hawks guard Steve Smith led the U.S. team with 19 points. Wizards draft pick Richard Hamilton again did not play because of a sprained right ankle. He has not played during the tournament.