Puerto Rico humiliates USA

Posted: Monday, August 16, 2004

ATHENS, Greece Their shots clanged off the rim, smacked the side of the backboard or missed completely. Their best player stared at the floor helplessly as the ball squirted between his legs and rolled away.

Whatever remained of America's aura of invincibility slipped away, too, in a shocking, lopsided loss that left their coach embarrassed and angry.

Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson and the rest of the U.S. basketball team fell 92-73 to Puerto Rico on Sunday, only the third Olympic defeat ever and first since adding pros for the nation that ruled the sport for three-quarters of a century.

It was by far the worst defeat for a U.S. men's team, coming in the Americans' first game of the Athens Olympics. Having it happen against a team they had dominated in the past 13 months only made it hurt worse.

''I'm humiliated, not for the loss I can always deal with wins and losses but I'm disappointed because I had a job to do as a coach, to get us to understand how we're supposed to play as a team and act as a team, and I don't think we did that,'' Larry Brown said.

Puerto Rico, which had lost to the Americans five times since last July, led for more than 33 minutes of the 40-minute game, was ahead by 22 at halftime and gamely held off a fourth-quarter comeback for one of the greatest sports achievements in the territory's history.

''We're a small island with a big heart,'' guard Elias Ayuso said.

The loss was a blow to the Americans' confidence, but it did little to hurt their gold medal chances. They need only to finish in the top four of their six-team group to reach the quarterfinals.

Still, the defeat will go a long way toward giving the competition hope that it's someone else's turn to move to the top of the sport.

As Carlos Arroyo left the court with just over a minute left, he defiantly pulled at the words ''Puerto Rico'' on his jersey. He led his team with 24 points.

''That was him telling his island of 4 million people he was very proud to beat the big colossal from the north,'' Puerto Rico coach Julio Toro said.

Anyone in America who didn't see this coming hadn't been paying attention to the way international basketball has been changing.

The U.S. team nearly lost in the semifinals at Sydney on a last-second shot by Lithuania, then dropped three games on its home turf at the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis the first losses ever by a U.S. team of NBA professionals.

This year's team, weakened by defections and rejections of 12 top players, had opened its pre-Olympic tour of Europe with a 17-point loss to Italy and a last-second victory over Germany a pair of games in which their vulnerability to a tight zone defense was clearly exposed.

Puerto Rico exploited that weakness, too, and the Americans could do next to nothing against the strategy.

After Lamar Odom made a 3-pointer for the U.S. team's first points, the Americans missed 16 straight from behind the arc.

American teams had been 24-0 since the professional Olympic era began with the 1992 Dream Team, but now there is a blemish on their record to go with two losses to the Soviet Union in the 1972 gold medal game and the 1988 semifinals.

The U.S Olympic team's record now stands at 109-3.

Argentina 83, Serbia-Montenegro 82

Spain 83, China 58

Lithuania 78, Angola 73

Italy 71, New Zealand 69

The best Phelps can do is tie Spitz after the South Africans cruised to a stunning win in 3 minutes, 13.17 seconds. The Netherlands won silver and Phelps and his American teammates took bronze.

It was the worst showing ever for the Americans, who had never lost an Olympic 400 free relay until they were upset by the Australians at the 2000 Sydney Games.

Jennifer Nichols of Cheyenne, Wyo., defeated Rina Dewi Puspitasari of Indonesia and Tetyana Berezhna beat Greece's Fotini Vavatsi in the opening matches of the women's tournament.

ATHENS, Greece The U.S. gymnastics team began its quest for an Olympic gold medal with an up-and-down qualifying round Sunday that included some nice moments mostly from Carly Patterson but also left plenty of room for improvement.

Most of the Americans can use the off day to improve on vault and floor before Tuesday's finals. The reigning world champions hardly looked the part on those events, stumbling around and turning a 0.99-point lead halfway through the meet into a deficit of 0.588.

Earlier, Americans Dax Holdren and Stein Metzger rallied from a set down to beat Australians Andrew Schacht and Josh Slack.

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