By Jake Appleman/@JakeAppleman
With a little over a minute to play and the U.S. up a few on France, Kevin Ware penetrates right wing and banks in a tough runner. The contact is obvious and the whistle is blown. Raw athleticism and clinical finishing—with or without windex—have been Ware’s calling card in the first two pool games. The and-one makes it a two-possession game and puts the U.S. in cruise control the rest of the way against arguably their stiffest competition in the entire tournament.
Except the foul is called on Ware.
No f—ing way.
Not this again.
Visions of a bruising Turkish big man setting a moving screen so blatant that ’08 U.S. Coach, and 2010 NBA C.O.Y. candidate, Lionel Hollins lightly kicks a chair come back like a cheap movie flashback. And the memory from earlier in the half of a ref blowing a whistle that went our way, and then smiling so broadly it was like he farted, is all too fresh in mind.
This is Ware’s fifth foul, so he’s out of the game, joining Royce Woolridge on the pine. Woolridge’s 13 third-quarter points came on an impressive array of step-backs, short spinning fades, threes off of ball movement and strong takes to the rim. Now, both of Team U.S.A.’s starting wings, the glue guys that can also create for themselves, are left to watch the climax and wonder.
When a French kid—we’ll call him Zinedine Zidane Thierry Henry Tony Parker—wets a long three to give Les Blues one of their few leads all night, the U.S. has one last opportunity to win it.
One last opportunity with three guys under 6”3 out there…kind of daunting for a perimeter-oriented team.
Spurred on by Coach K’s earlier joke that Forrest Gump had an Adidas deal, we’ll say that Team USA, in ’08 and ’10, is as Team U.S.A. does—and what Team U.S.A. does is dribble penetration from its point guard late in the game.
Two years ago it was Florida’s Erving Walker. This year it’s Ryan Boatright.
Boat get the ball on the left wing, elbow extended.
Tick, tick, tick…
Slices in the lane.
He goes up.
There’s some contact, but not enough for a foul. And really…who would have expected it?
The ball is on the rim, scoping the cylinder out like a college scholarship offer.
The ball rolls off the other side of the iron.
Out of bounds off of France. 1.1 remaining.
Coach Krystkowiak draws up a play, but the execution isn’t perfect and Dillon Wadsack’s corner three is swatted emphatically into the crowd as time expires.
If only Obama hadn’t declined Nicolas Sarkozy’s invitation to lunch, maybe none of this would have happened.
Final: France 67 U.S.A. 66
Here’s my favorite part of Krystkowiak’s pregame speech:
“Most guys aren’t dialed in like you guys, to taking shots with a hand in their face…For all the screening action, it’s all shell. It’s all putting your hard hat on and getting ready to be physical and guarding him. Number 10, last night had 31 points in 28 minutes. He can play. And he looks like Kramer on Seinfeld…he doesn’t look like he can play, but he can go right or left, he runs, jump fades, he gets to the line, all kinds of stuff. Their point guard didn’t miss a shot yesterday, either. He was 7-7, number 5. He’s a little bigger. Get ready if they run a little UCLA cut, they’ll run him down to the block. They might try and post him. We need ball pressure.”
Guarantee that’s the first time Cosmo Kramer has been mentioned in the same speech as UCLA cuts and ball pressure, unless of course Bill Walton spent a good chunk of the 90’s shrooming before NBC’s Thursday night lineup.
From the notebook:
–It’s amazing how much shooting the ball from distance well can help your cause on this level. Damien Leonard struggled from beyond the arc 3-13—the U.S. was 6-24 overall—and that was the biggest element in the loss. The team took care of the ball, improved on offense and defense and continued to come together. Including Woolridge’s 9-14 (which includes a missed heave at the end of a quarter) the team was 24-67 overall.
Afterwards, Krystkowiak talks a lot about how shots falling can make you look like a genius even if very little else changes, and it’s really true: shooting the ball well is like being the girl that covers up flaws with the right makeup and clothes. And let’s be honest, you don’t want to see models on the catwalk without blush on…
–I took a few action shots from the game and the two that stuck were, amazingly, the two most unique plays of the first half: The first is the follow-through on a Ryan Boatright four-point play and the second is a jumper that France’s Evan Turnier (Kramer from Seinfeld) hit, during which Royce Woolridge had his lip busted open fighting through a high screen. You can see Royce’s (#9) reaction to taking the hit pretty well.
Here they are:
Three fun notes from the evening after the game:
–We had pizza at the bowling alley on the base and the guys signed autographs for the young army brats. I was sitting with the team per usual and the kids were too young to realize I wasn’t on the team, so I reluctantly signed some autographs, too. I tried to explain to them that I didn’t play for the team, but they still insisted. Kids are persuasive.
–One of Team USA’s biggest supporters throughout the tournament was Sgt. Major Delgado, a really nice guy and natural leader. Sgt. Major Delgado has a son named Kobe. He and his wife, Kim, explained that they wanted a name that started with K, and he was a Kobe fan, so naturally it made sense.
“Before the charges,” Kim added.
The room laughed.
–I spent the first few days of the tournament sharing the Presidential Suite with Coach Krystkowiak. More on this (probably) later on this series. After the France game, Coach turned the women’s Final Four on briefly after going over the Argentina-Croatia film. He made a nice comment about how great it was to see women playing impressive, fundamental basketball.
I referenced playing on the girl’s scout team my senior year at Kenyon and the fact that the girls are a lot more athletic in person than you can glean from just watching them on TV. Then we had this exchange.
LK: “So watching you would just be like watching a girl?”
JA: “I mean…not really. I’m more athletic, but you’d still see them making the nice basketball plays.”
LK: “Ok there, LeBron.”