The United States is headed to the medal round of the Basketball World Cup, bouncing back from its first loss of the tournament in emphatic fashion.
Mikal Bridges scored 14 of his 24 points in the first half, Tyrese Haliburton added 18 and the U.S. was airtight for long stretches defensively on the way to easily beating Italy 100-63 yesterday night in the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
The win ensures the 15th top-four finish for the Americans (5-1) in 19 World Cups. They will play either Germany (5-0) or Latvia (4-1) in Friday’s semifinals; those two teams play their quarterfinal game in Manila today.
“We just felt that energy from the jump,” Bridges said. “Everybody felt it.”
That would include the Italians. They might have felt it more than anyone. It was 46-24 USA by halftime, with Austin Reaves providing the exclamation point with a follow-slam that had teammates out of their seats. The margin was that big despite Anthony Edwards — the team’s leading scorer entering Tuesday, averaging just over 20 points in the first five games of the World Cup — not even getting on the scoresheet until the first possession of the third quarter.
His heroics weren’t needed. Not much on the offensive end was. The defense — which was shredded for 110 points in a six-point loss to Lithuania on Sunday — held Italy to 6-of-31 shooting over the final 15 minutes of the first half. Lithuania started 9 for 9 from 3-point range vs. the U.S.; Italy started 2 for 21 yesterday, finished 7 for 38 from beyond the arc and wound up shooting only 31%.
“Everything stayed the same,” U.S. point guard Jalen Brunson said. “It’s just, our approach had to be a little better.”
Reaves finished with 12 for the Americans, who improved to 10-1 overall this summer. Simone Fontecchio led Italy (4-2) with 18 points.
It was the quarterfinal round where it all went wrong for the U.S. at the World Cup four years ago in China. A loss to France in the Round of 8 eliminated the Americans from medal contention and started a free-fall all the way to seventh place, the worst finish ever by a U.S. team in a major men’s international event.
That won’t happen this time. Win Friday, and the U.S. is assured of a medal. Win Friday and Sunday, and the Americans will be flying home with gold.
“We’re just ready for the moment,” Bridges said.
Italy had beaten the U.S. only twice in 14 previous tries at the senior men’s national level, both times at the world championships — which FIBA now calls the World Cup. The first was in 1970 on the way to a fifth-place finish for the U.S. The second was in 1978, in Manila no less, a defeat that helped relegate the Americans to a fifth-place finish that year as well.
The Italians hung around, for a few minutes. The U.S. didn’t get into an early hole — as has been the case multiple times in this World Cup — but the lead was only 10-8 when the Americans went to the second unit, which has been a strength all summer.
USA: Face Germany or Latvia in semifinals Friday.
Italy: Face Germany or Latvia in consolation playoffs Thursday. TIM REYNOLDS, MANILA, MDT/AP