“Do you believe in miracles?”
I don’t speak Russian, but I’m pretty sure that’s what I heard the announcers screaming on the Russian telecast as the final buzzer sounded on their 79-74 upset victory over the United States this morning.
After going 5-1 in group play, the top-seeded Americans were dropped in the quarterfinals of the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship by a less-than-stellar Russian team that went 3-3 in group play.
The Americans can now hope for a fifth-place finish at best and will have to watch as Russia battles Lithuania tomorrow for a spot in the gold-medal game.
The US got off to a poor start in this morning’s contest, trailing by 10 at the half, 40-30.
But behind a 23-12 third-quarter run fueled by Jeremy Lamb, it looked like the Americans had finally taken control of the game and were on the road to victory.
Vladislav Trushkin had different plans, however. The Russian notched 14 of his 19 total points in the final quarter, leading his squad to the five-point victory.
Trushkin’s clutch performance guarantees that United States will not finish with a medal for just the third time in the history of the competition.
It’s no surprise then that the Americans will receive a grade report that they won’t be excited to bring home to their parents.
The US Offense: D-
I’m not sure if I can accurately convey how terrible the Americans looked with the ball today. But let me give it a shot. It’s starting point guard, Joe Jackson, finished as the squad’s top assist giver – with two dimes. As a team, the Americans combined for just eight assists on 29 made field goals. The US shot 43.3 percent from the field and shot 0-of-9 from deep. The team finished with just 74 points – its lowest output of the tournament thus far. Not that anyone will be following too closely, but the US should look to move the ball around more on its quest for fifth place.
Jeremy Lamb: B-
At times, Lamb was the lone bright spot in the United States’ bleak offense. The rising UConn sophomore did work in the third quarter, hitting an array of midrange jumpers and floaters to bring the United States back into the game. After dropping 35 and 25 points in his last two contests, Lamb finished with a team-high 21 this morning. But despite leading the squad in scoring for the third straight game, Lamb was much less efficient than he had been in previous matchups, going 9-for-22 from the field for a mark of 40.9 percent. The US needs him to do better to win games against strong competition.
Meyers Leonard: B
Leonard’s performance this morning will certainly be overshadowed by the disappointing loss, but I think he deserves some credit. Leonard contributed a strong 23 minutes of play, notching 13 points – a tournament high – on nine shots while pulling down five boards. With under seven minutes to play and the US trailing by three, the rising Illinois sophomore came up with a big steal on the defensive end, dribbled the length of the court, and finished a two-handed jam to bring his team within one. These energy plays are what the US needs from Leonard.
Joe Jackson: C
After watching Jackson against Lithuania, I can’t say I was very high on him as the Americans’ starting floor general. Jackson did nothing to change my opinion this morning. I guess something about a 26-27 assist-turnover ratio just doesn’t appeal to me. I will admit that Jackson picked his spots better today, notching 14 points on nine shots, but the two free throws he missed with the US down five with just over a minute to go were crushing.
Dmitry Kulagin: A-
I have a feeling US coach Paul Hewitt is going to have nightmares about Kulagin tonight. With the US guards gambling for steals, the 6-5 shooting guard was left wide open on way too many occasions and Kulagin made them pay. He shot five-of-six from beyond the arc for a team-high 21 points. He also pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds for his first double-double of the tournament. Russia will need another standout performance from him again if they are going to take down Lithuania tomorrow.
Vladislav Trushkin: A-
Kulagin got Russia going early, but Trushkin closed it out. After scoring five points in the first three quarters, the 6-7 forward caught fire in the fourth. Trushkin finished with 14 of his squad’s 27 points in the quarter, including a deep three that crushed the Americans’ hopes of a comeback. With Russia leading by three and under a minute to play, the US came up with a strong defensive possession and it looked like they would recover the ball with a shot to tie the game. But with just a few ticks on the shot clock, the Russians swung the ball to Trushkin, who was spotted up a few feet beyond the arc, and he nailed the shot as the clock expired. We’ll see if Trushkin’s hot hand can carry over to tomorrow.
FIBA rules: C-
Am I the only one who isn’t a fan of the 24-second shot clock for the U19 tournament? I understand that it works for the NBA, but it seems silly to use with a bunch of college-age players who don’t have fully developed one-on-one scoring moves. If it was pushed back to 30, I think we would see a lot more ball movement and a lot less forced jumpers late in the clock.
What did you think about the US losing?
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