It started out shaky but the men’s USA basketball team picked up the pace in the second half to fight off Lithuania 77-61 on Saturday in their first exhibition game against an opponent other than themselves. The U.S. shot 3-of-21 in the first quarter and committed six turnovers before rallying to trail by just one point at halftime. In front of a partisan crowd in Madrid, Spain, Team USA showed it has several things to work on before world competition begins against Turkey on Aug. 28.

“It’s one of those experiences that when you go through it, you don’t want to go through it. But after you go through it, it’s a good thing to go through it,” coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters. “It’s a good thing our defense was good throughout the whole game or else we could have been down big in the first half.”

Although Team USA struggled in the first half, the team is still sorting out the rotation that will propel them into live competition and the first exhibition game moved them closer to their goal. America has been trying to single out a second scorer to feature behind Kevin Durant. Rudy Gay’s output Saturday added to what he has delivered so far in scrimmages. Against Lithuania, Gay was the second leading scorer with 14 points and seven rebounds and offers Team USA another lanky scorer who can beat defenders off the dribble and shoot from long range. At 6-foot-9 inches, Gay measures favorably to Durant, who stands 6-foot-9, and both forwards length make them interchangeable parts in the frontcourt.

The team may be intent to start Chauncey Billups at point guard but the talents of Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose possibly could lead to a point–guard-by-committee approach. Billups and Rondo, failed to stand out on Saturday but weren’t the only Americans to struggle. It will be important for the guards to set the pace, as the roster isn’t littered with low post scorers and shot blockers.

Although they were unimpressive, the talent on Team USA is still pretty formidable and has a chance to get better before the end of the month. “We have a lot to learn before Turkey,” Krzyzewski said.

Team USA will battle Spain on Sunday afternoon.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO