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Rapid Reaction: USA fends off Slovenia

Some at-the-buzzer instant analysis from press row at the Palau Sant Jordi after Team USA clinched a spot in the semifinals of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup with Tuesday's 119-76 trouncing of Slovenia:

How It Happened: You would never know, looking at the final score of 119-76, how much trouble Team USA had for a half.

Against a team it comfortably manhandled in an exhibition game in Gran Canaria exactly two weeks earlier, Team USA missed nine of its first 10 shots from the field, watched captain James Harden miss his first nine shots overall and was ahead by a mere seven points at intermission.

Eventually, though, Team USA's athleticism and depth did its damage and erupted for a 70-point second half that delivered the quarterfinal rout.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski came in touting the Slovenians as an "unusual team" to defend and lauded them for having "the most experienced perimeter [rotation] in the tournament outside of Spain."

And Phoenix Suns star Goran Dragic was not limited to less than 25 minutes of court time, like he was before the tournament began, as had been stipulated by an agreement struck between the Slovenian federation and the Suns.

So ...

With Slovenia converting on 70 percent of its 2-point attempts in the first two quarters and Team USA shooting so woefully that Harden and Steph Curry were a combined 0-for-12, it was a game for a half. But the final box score showed six Americans in double figures, led by Klay Thompson (20 points).

Harden managed to chip in 14 points despite missing those first nine shots, while Derrick Rose -- if not quite delivering the breakout game that both he and Krzyzewski were hoping for -- tossed in 12 points in 18 minutes and had the pleasure of seeing 6 of 10 field-goal attempts go down after shooting 8-for-37 in his first six games of the tournament.

"They punish every mistake," Slovenia coach Jure Zdovc said.

Zdovc pinpointed Team USA's massive rebounding edge as the difference. The Americans had 23 offensive rebounds, 53 overall, in their highest offensive output in the tournament, besting their 114 points against Finland in their Group C opener.

The Streak: That's now 61 wins in a row and counting for Krzyzewski; 43 consecutive victories in Olympic and FIBA tournaments and another 18 wins in exhibition games. The Americans previously tasted defeat in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship against Greece and launched this streak on Sept. 2, 2006, with a 96-81 victory over Argentina in the bronze-medal game in Japan.

Play of the Game: Rose had a nice coast-to-coast drive and lefty finish in the first half. Kenneth Faried's first-quarter follow dunk was memorable, too:

The standout on this scorecard, though, was DeMarcus Cousins' impressive rumble all the way in from halfcourt for an uncontested dunk early on.

Not for its impact on the score, obviously. The Americans couldn't shake the pesky Slovenians until the third quarter, when the Slovenian turnovers and Team USA dunks started to flow, highlighted by a Harden-to-Faried lob that hiked the lead to 72-54 and got Harden especially hyped up.

But consider what Cousins did. He poked the ball loose well shy of the midcourt stripe, gathered it under control right around the center circle, took one dribble and two long steps and eventually slammed the ball through.

It was an end-to-end solo sortie -- which you can watch here -- that not many big men can make.

Numbers Game: When the Slovenia game tipped off, Team USA didn't have a single player averaging so much as 14 points per game. Anthony Davis entered as its top scorer, at 13.8 PPG, and totaled 13 points to go with his 11 rebounds and three blocks.


Leading the tournament with a success rate of 78.4 percent from the field coming in, Faried got sucked into Team USA's early shooting struggles. Even he missed four of his first six shots. He wound up 5-for-9 from the field in scoring 12 points, taking his shooting percentage down to 71.7 percent.


USA Basketball national teams featuring NBA players are now 11-0 in Barcelona heading into Thursday's semifinals.

The original Dream Team cruised to an 8-0 record at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Team USA returned to Barcelona in 2012 as part of its preparation for the London Olympics and posted victories over Argentina and Spain.

Tuesday's 43-point triumph over the Slovenians sets up the Americans' third and last possible game at the Palau Sant Jordi in this tournament before the championship game and third-place match take place this weekend in Madrid.

What's Next: Team USA returns to the practice floor Wednesday, then meets its old friends from Lithuania in Thursday night's semifinals at 9 p.m. local time.

Turkey's loquacious Ergin Ataman had been openly hopeful of getting another shot at the Americans after his slowdown tactics caused such problems for the tournament favorites for 2½ quarters.

But Ataman's team never found that same level of execution against any of its other six opponents in this tournament to match what it threw against Team USA. And that proved fatal against stubborn Lithuania, which has shrugged off the loss of influential point guard Mantas Kalnietis to not only win Group D but now force its way into the final four of the 24-team field.

The Lithuanians, of course, have a long history of making the Americans miserable, dating to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. They also happened to give Team USA its toughest test outside of Spain at the London Olympics in 2012 -- maybe even including Spain -- but won't have Linas Kleiza this time, either.

Kleiza memorably rung up 25 points in the teams' 99-94 scrap two summers ago, but he's taking a break from the national team this summer, leaving Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (12 points and 13 boards against Omer Asik and Turkey), Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas and former Dallas Mavericks draftee Renaldas Seibutis (who had a team-high 19 points Tuesday) to do the heavy lifting.