By Jake Appleman/@JakeAppleman
For thirty-five minutes the United States played Australia even. The U.S. punched first. Australia punched back. Nip and tuck it went through a tight first half until an 11-0 run by the AUSSIEAUSSIEAUSSIES, as their kazoo-tooting fans would scream, gave them an 8-point halftime lead. The U.S. came out firing in the third quarter, boasting impressive resolve and a lightening-quick Ryan Boatright-Damian Leonard-Ryan Boatright sandwich of threes.
So why then, with U.S. down 13 in the waning seconds, was a simple inbounds play so important? Forget for a second that the U.S. had imploded, taking bad shots after misreading the zone and struggling to box out on free throws. Yeah, a tie game became wholly lopsided in a matter of minutes. But an inbounds play with two seconds to go after Coach Krystkowiak, counter to all basketball logic, implored the team not to foul to stop the clock?
Welcome to the Albert Schweitzer International Basketball Tournament…
Due to permutations and math that’s far too complex for me, the U.S. needed to lose by less than 14 to pass out of the elite eight pool into the single elimination final four. Of course, this wasn’t relayed to the kids beforehand. The coaches and I knew but, as Krystkowiak rightly pointed out afterward, it would have been strange to worry the team with these details. Especially considering they had just beaten Spain, who had beaten Australia in group play. The objective and focus was to win.
But amazingly, after a totally unnecessary bucket that seemed to come out of spite–bad karma for a potential Gold Medal rematch if you believe in such things–that’s what it came down to: an inbounds pass.
Thankfully, the Australians held off and the clock expired…otherwise a Sergeant Major probably would have had a dingo eat one of their baby mommas. And the dingo would have come with a note that said, “Tell ‘em Paul Hogan sent ya.”
That’s right, I just went there. I’m swimming in stereotypes and bathing in cultural backwash. It’s 3AM (4/8/10) and I can’t sleep, in part because we lost. Shit happens. So does caffeine. Hell of a combination.
Other things you should know:
–Ryan Boatright has invariably become the starter and the finisher for the offense. When guys are tentative to start, the onus falls on the undersized Chicago point guard to take things into his own hands. The same thing often happens late in the game. This reality led me to scribble “Bailout Boatright” in my notebook. Heck of an indie rock band name.
–Australian Captain Hugh Greenwood looks like a blond werewolf. His eyebrows are the closest thing to the Autobahn I’ve seen yet. As for his game? Unselfish. He doesn’t need to make shots to have an overarching effect on the game. 10-11-6 for HG, but it felt more important than that. He orchestrated despite not being a point guard. When he’s leading Saint Mary’s deep into the 2012 NCAA Tournament, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
–Australia grabbed 20 offensive boards. This coming despite a respectable Ben Wallace-esque second-half effort from Chris Manhertz, who finished with 12 rebounds. When your team’s strengths are perimeter play, these things happen.
–Both teams cooled down considerably in the second half, but the Aussies knocked down 12-14 free throws while the Americans continued at below a 60% clip for the game. There’s a lot of your difference right there.
–Both Kevin Ware and Royce Woolridge, perhaps neither fully healthy, struggled a bit in this game. Those are the guys whose exploits, on both ends, can make the Americans golden. When they’re clicking on offense, everything opens up around them. When they’re manning up on D, the perimeter doesn’t need to collapse into the middle and the middle doesn’t need to force rushed, and late, close-outs.
–Andrew White saw even more time. He combined with Damien Leonard to be temporarily lethal on the offense end, even though the two–who had to figure who was playing the stretch 4–were obviously feeling one another out on the floor in a very “high school” sense. Who’s your man? Oh, you got him. You want me here, or do you wanna go here? Who’s taking the ball out?
On to face Germany in the semis…