Team USA Uses Defense To Beat Puerto Rico

Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon is known for teaching tight defensive play, and he clearly passed that on to Team USA the past few weeks.

Dixon, coaching the U.S. in the men's FIBA under-19 world championship tournament, relied on that defense in an 82-61 win against Puerto Rico Tuesday night in Auckland, New Zealand.

It was a relatively off night in shooting for Team USA, which ran its record to 5-0 with the win against Puerto Rico (3-2) to insure the top seed for the second round Group E for the July 10 medal-round quarterfinals. The U.S. faces the Group F No. 4 team, which is still to be determined. The United States wraps up Second-Round play Wednesday against European power Lithuania (3-2) in a 7:30 p.m. (Auckland local time) game.

"We were all just trying to play team defense, help each other out, and we were trying to force them into tough shots,'' USA forward Darius Miller said. "They got a lot of high-percentage shots throughout the tournament, and they were making them. So, we just tried to force them into bad shots and it worked out for us.''

Pittsburgh sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs started at point guard for the Americans. He played 22 minutes, scored eight points and finished with two assists and one steal on 3-for-10 shooting with one 3-pointer in five attempts. It was Gibbs' first start for Team USA.

The USA's contest against Puerto Rico was a game in which it never trailed. Although the U.S. squad shot just 36.5 percent from the field overall and made only 29.4 percent (10-34 3pt FGs) from 3-point, it had 3-pointers falling early and quickly ended all suspense for this contest.

Klay Thompson (Washington State / Ladera Ranch, Calif.) opened the scoring with a three and added a second at the 6:43 mark to help the U.S. take an 8-4 lead. But Puerto Rico evened the score at 11-11 after Mike Rosario, who plays for Rutgers, drained a 3-pointer. But that was the best Puerto Rico could do.

The U.S. blew the game open with a 24-2 run that covered the last 2:41 in the first quarter and the first 5:12 in the second quarter. During the game-deciding run Gibbs (Pittsburgh / Scotch Plains, N.J.) and Seth Curry (Duke / Charlotte, N.C.) each tallied six points, Terrico White (Mississippi / Memphis, Tenn.) contributed five points, and Howard Thompkins (Georgia / Lithonia, Ga.) added four more in the big run.

Outscoring Puerto Rico 9-2 over the final 2:31 of the opening quarter to grab control 20-13, the Americans opened the second quarter by scoring 15 straight points to dominate 35-13. Of Puerto Rico's six points in the second, four came on free throws. But it made just 1 of 16 from the field.

Leading comfortably at halftime, 43-19, the USA lead hovered around 20 points for the remainder of the game as Puerto Rico's shooters were continually harassed by the USA defense. Puerto Rico star guard Rosario, who scored 54 points (18-for-29 field goals, 9-for-13 on 3-pointers and 9-for-10 free throws) in his team's last-second 90-89 win against France Monday, tallied just 11 on 4-for-14 shooting against the U.S.

Puerto Rico closed the night making just 24 of 72 shots, including 6-for-16 from 3-point range. The Americans also controlled the boards with a 51-42 advantage. The U.S. had 17 offensive rebounds.

Thompkins led the USA in scoring for the second straight game with 14 points to go with a team-high nine rebounds and one block in 18 minutes. Gordon Hayward (Butler / Brownsburg, Ind.) added 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists, three blocks and three steals in 18 minutes as well. Curry and Thompson each contributed nine points, while Gibbs and Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas / Jersey City, N.J.) scored eight each.

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