From USA Basketball for MSNsportsNET.com
July 10, 2009
BELGRADE, Serbia - Featuring a barrage of 3-pointers and another well-balanced attack that saw every member of the team score, the 2009 USA Men's World University Games Team (5-0) advanced to the 2009 World University Games medal semifinals unscathed after bouncing Bulgaria (3-2) 96-66 on Thursday night in Belgrade, Serbia.
The squad set a USA World University Games record with 16 made 3-pointers, wiping out the previous record of 12 set at the '95 WUGs, and was led from behind the arc by 4-of-6 shooting from Da'Sean Butler (West Virginia / Newark, N.J.) and a 3-of-4 performance from Talor Battle (Penn State / Albany, N.Y.).
"I have played with a lot of great 3-point shooters in my time," said Butler. "But everybody on this team is really skilled in a lot of ways - ball handling, passing, rebounding, everybody is very versatile."
Five players scored in double digits, led by 15 points from Quincy Pondexter (Washington / Fresno, Calif.).
James Anderson (Oklahoma State / Junction City, Ark.), Butler and Lazar Hayward (Marquette / Buffalo, N.Y.) pitched in 12 points each and Battle added 11. Additionally, Robbie Hummel (Purdue / Valparaiso, Ind.) grabbed a game-best 10 rebounds to go with seven points and four assists, and Corey Fisher (Villanova / Bronx, N.Y.) passed off a game-high five assists and scored six points.
"Being together so much without any TV or a lot of American luxuries is really bringing us together, and it's really crossing over onto the court," said Pondexter. "We just really have a common goal to win the gold medal, and we are doing whatever it takes to win."
The USA will go up against Russia (5-1) in the first medal semifinal game (11:30 a.m. EDT) on July 10, while Serbia (4-1) will face Israel (6-0) in the second semifinal for the right to advance to the July 11 gold medal game. In the other quarterfinals contests, Serbia advanced with a 68-46 victory over Turkey (4-1), Russia topped Lithuania (5-1) 82-73 and Israel defeated Germany (2-3) 66-49.
"They were fired up for this game," said USA and University of Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan. "Our guys were excited too, obviously. But Bulgaria, I think maybe they tried a little too hard because they seemed anxious. They probably took some shots they would like to have back. We were smart enough to take advantage of that, and that got us the cushion. They made one run in the second half, got it under 20, which might not seem like a big deal, but it was. We lost our focus for a little while, but we got it back and improved the lead again."
Receiving points from four different players, the U.S. ran out to a 9-1 lead to start the game. By the 4:28 mark, following a Butler 3-pointer, the USA was up 16-5 and continued to increase its lead and at the quarter break, held a 24-9 lead.
By halftime, the game was well in hand, 46-24. In the first half alone, the USA outrebounded Bulgaria 32-18, shot a sizzling 47.1 percent (8-17 3pt FGs) from beyond the arc and held Bulgaria to a paltry 28.6 percent (10-35 FGs) shooting from the field.
"We tried to come out with a lot of energy," said Anderson. "Once we got the lead, we just kept pushing and going at them. We didn't want to play careless and play with bad habits."
Bulgaria outscored the U.S. 24-22 in the third quarter, however, the Europeans were never a serious threat in the second half. The USA's first five field goals in the final stanza were all threes, three of which came from Butler, and by the 4:18 mark the USA's lead was 83-59. Hayward finished the USA's record night with a three at 23.8 to give the red, white and blue its final points on the night, and largest lead, 96-94.
The U.S., which also opened with a three from Fisher, never trailed, outrebounded Bulgaria 55-40 and dished out 22 assists on 33 field goals. Shooting 44.0 percent overall (33-75 FGs), the Americans held Bulgaria to 35.5 percent (27-76 FGs) from the field and a frigid 11.1 percent (2-18 3pt FGs) from 3-point.
"I think (our team chemistry) great," said Hayward. "And I think it's really starting to show on the court. We are together all day, so everybody is learning about each other. We are starting to find out who likes what spots on the court. I just think it shows on the basketball court, and we are all having fun together. When you have a bunch of guys like this on this team, who aren't selfish, it's a lot of fun."