From our friends at USA Basketball:
Leading by just six at halftime of the FIBA Americas U18 Championship gold medal game, the USA stepped up its defense in the second half to break open its game with Brazil and record an 81-56 victory and the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
USA 6-8 forward Julius Randle (Prestonwood Christian Academy/McKinney, Texas), who still has his senior high school season ahead of him, helped pave the way to the win posting a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds. Jarnell Stokes (University of Tennessee/Memphis, Tenn.) contributed 11 points and four rebounds, and Marcus Smart (Marcus H.S./Flower Mound, Texas) was credited with 10 points, three rebounds, four assists and a game high six steals.
The USA, which averaged 97.2 points a game during the championship while winning its five contests by an average of 38.6 points a game, received scoring from 11 of its 12 players.
“I though in the first half they went zone and we got a little stagnant and we turned the ball over way too much. We had some opportunities on some fast breaks that we got nothing out of. The one thing we were fortunate in the first half was they were 9-for-19 from the foul line.,” stated USA and University of Florida head coach Billy Donovan.
“I thought in the second half we got up and down the floor, we were pushing it more; more up tempo, we attacked the basket; we attacked the paint; and I thought our defense was really, really good in the second half. We took away 3-pointers and easy baskets, and that enabled us to get out on the fast break.”
Having put an 83-64 whipping on Brazil just two days early during the two teams’ final preliminary round game, Brazil, behind another near capacity crowd, refused to let the USA pull away in the first half. Tied 7-7 with 6:02 to play in the first quarter, five different U.S. players contributed points in a 11-2 run that saw the USA lead increase to 18-9 with 2:41 left in the opening period.
Brazil pulled to within five, 18-13, but James Robinson (DeMatha Catholic H.S./Mitchellville, Md.) drove down the middle twice for layups, and Rasheed Sulaimon (Strake Jesuit College Prep/Houston, Texas) converted a steal into a layup in the quarter’s final seconds to push the U.S. advantage to 24-16 after one quarter of action.
The USA pushed its lead to 12 points, 31-19, following a Smart 3-pointer. But Brazil, playing to its vocal crowd, regrouped and reeled off seven straight points to reduce the deficit to 31-26.
Brazil continued to close in and with 36 seconds remaining before halftime, the South Americans had cut the gap to 35-31 after Lucas Rosa Faria connected on a 3-pointer. The U.S. retired to the locker room at halftime leading 37-31 after Shaq Goodwin (Southwest DeKalb H.S./Decatur, Ga.) netted two off an offensive rebound with 12 seconds remaining before halftime.
The score could have been very different if the host country hadn’t shot itself in the foot by sinking just 9-of-19 free throws. Brazil also worked to a 22-13 advantage on the glass.
With the gold medal still in limbo, the Americans opened the third quarter with inspired defense, while kicking its offense up a notch or two.
Randle, who would account for 14 of his game high 18 points and 11 of his 12 rebounds in the second half, got the USA off to good start with a jumper that upped the USA lead to 39-31.
Ahead 42-34, Randle contributed five points as the USA exploded for a 10-0 scoring run as its lead quickly ballooned to 52-34. And it could have been even worse for Brazil as the United States’ shooting from the free throw line went cold resulting in a 3-for-8 free throw shooting performance during the game clinching run.
“I just wanted to lock in and bring energy to the team, bring leadership to the team, and in the second half I just really wanted to focus in and be aggressive on both ends and on the defensive and offensive glass,” said Randle.
“Julius made some really, really big plays; athletic plays around the basket. He really stepped up and I thought he played exceptionally well yesterday against Argentina, then to come back and follow it up was terrific,” Donovan said.
Brazil got within 14 points late in the third, 54-40, but Sam Dekker (Sheboygan Lutheran H.S./ Sheboygan, Wis.) hit a 3-pointer in the third quarter’s final minute and added a baseline drive for two early in the fourth quarter, as the USA scored seven straight points to grab a 20-point lead and end all suspense about who would leave the arena wearing the gold medal.
“I told our guys after that they’re the ones that made it all possible. There was a lot of sacrifice. We had a lot of good players and I think they all understood that they all could probably score more, they all could probably do more, but maybe it wouldn’t be the best thing for our team. I was just really proud of the way they sacrificed for one another, they sacrificed for our country and they really wanted to win,” stated Donovan.
The USA’s winning of the gold medal is the nation’s sixth FIBA Americas U18 gold medal in eight championships, and the U.S.is now 43-2 all-time in the U18 zone championship.
In the final day’s other games, the U.S. Virgin Islands (2-3) beat Colombia (1-4) 77-52 for capture seventh place; Mexico (2-3) earned fifth place after recording a narrow 75-73 win against Puerto Rico (1-4); and in the bronze medal game, Canada (4-1) just slipped past Argentina (2-3) 68-66.
The top finishers from the U18 championship – USA, Brazil, Canada and Argentina- each earned an invite to the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship.
Serving as USA assistant coaches were Gonzaga University head coach Mark Few and Shaka Smart from Virginia Commonwealth University.