If there can be such a thing as an ideal loss, Team USA might have experienced it against Lithuania at the FIBA World Cup last Sunday.
It didn’t cost the Americans any position in the tournament — in fact, it probably improved their draw. But the loss to Lithuania also acted as a “free” focusing moment for a young team that had never experienced such adversity in major international games. Given a reprieve, Team USA came with more intent and force from the start in Tuesday’s quarterfinal, bouncing back to oust Italy 100-63 from the medal round at Mall of Asia Arena.
Team USA will get the winner of Germany-Latvia, who play Wednesday, in the semifinals on Friday. But Tuesday’s other quarterfinal brought other interesting news as Lithuania, which had proven to have a matchup advantage on the Americans, was eliminated as their recent hot shooting went cold against Serbia in a blowout.
After falling behind by double figures in the first half in three of their five games in the tournament, American players and coaches emphasized the need to reverse that trend. And Team USA sprinted out to a 10-point lead of their own in the first quarter.
After getting absolutely drilled on the boards over the last few games, the Americans doubled the Italians up over the game’s first 10 minutes to establish control even with center Jaren Jackson Jr. getting in early foul trouble for a third consecutive game.
The Americans stretched the lead behind Mikal Bridges, who has been perhaps Team USA’s steadiest player during the tournament. Bridges, who has shown off the shot creation skills he has developed over the last two years in addition to his spot up shooting in the World Cup, scored 14 of his 24 points in the first half to propel Team USA to a 22-point halftime lead.
And Bridges doing this against Italy has an interesting side story.