SPORTS

Revived US team to semis

The USA’s men’s Olympic basketball team, considered somnambulant by some and left for dead by others, finally jolted awake yesterday at the Olympic Indoor Hall. Led by a hot-shooting Stephon Marbury, the team pulled away from a strong Spanish team to win by 102-94, giving it a place in tonight’s semifinals, but not before an emotional dustup that marred the hard-fought game’s end. The US team will play either Greece or Argentina, scheduled for a late-night encounter yesterday. All three teams ended the preliminary round with 3-2 records, but it was the Spanish who, along with Lithuania, went into the quarterfinals with a perfect 5-0 record and plenty of momentum. It emerged with hopes only for seventh place. Spain kept pace in the first half, going to break with a single-point – on a late three-pointer by Rudy Fernandez. The suddenly torrid outside shooting of the Americans, making 55 percent of points in the game from three-point range on 12 of 22, was countered by powerful inside play by Spain. They were led by Pau Gasol, who had 18 points and six rebounds by halftime on some deft baseline moves. He finished with 29, followed by Jose Manuel Calderon with 19 and Juan Carlos Navarro with 17. Marbury and Allen Iverson each hit a trio of three-pointers after the break. In the fourth, Spain closed to 80-76 but then squandered three chances to narrow the gap further. Marbury finished with 31 points, with Iverson adding 16. Carlos Boozer added valuable minutes and 12 points, spelling team leader Tim Duncan, who scored the game’s first five points but then languished in foul trouble. Carmelo Anthony again played little, yet hit a pivotal three-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to put the US up by seven. The action did not cease with the game’s end, as the two benches traded heated words over a late timeout by the US, holding an 11-point lead. Spanish coach Mario Pesquera later, and bitterly, implied this was unsportsmanlike. Pesquera, whom US coach Larry Brown likened to a son, reciprocated like a spurned offspring, saying: «We played under NBA [American professional] rules, not under FIBA [international federation] rules… It was difficult to play under such conditions,» which allowed more leeway in traveling and fouls. «It’s time we spoke the truth on this,» he added. Doffing the gloves completely, he also said, «I had, repeat had, a lot of respect for Larry Brown,» though he later sanded the hard edges. Brown said simply: «I would never try to embarrass anybody… All you can do is apologize and move on.» This incident, and their misfortune to meet a suddenly hot US in the quarterfinals, provided an emotional conclusion to a superb tournament for the Spanish. Gasol said, «We had a great opportunity… we deserve better,» and spoke of the «image issue» still dogging the US team. «We weren’t scared at all,» he added. Brown said that no relief was in sight, with possible matchups against host Greece and then Lithuania, which already defeated the US. The score sheet listed 14,500 attendees whereas the Info2004 Intranet system claimed a sellout crowd of 19,250 – evidence, perhaps, of the continuing disputes over Games attendance.