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U.S. loses to Spain

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2002

INDIANAPOLIS -- The U.S. team had one last debacle before leaving town.

The United States lost again at the World Championships on Saturday night, falling 81-75 to Spain in the fifth-place game.

It was an outcome far worse than anyone on the American team ever could have expected coming into this tournament -- the worst showing in history by a U.S. team at a World Championships.

''In Spain, the people are sleeping now. But our team is having a dream in the States,'' Spain coach Javier Imbroda said.

Spain closed with a 9-0 run as the American team failed to score in the final 2:38. Paul Pierce, the team's leading scorer, did not play in the fourth quarter -- a move coach George Karl admitted might have been a mistake.

Spain's on-court celebration was subdued, even though beating the United States was quite an accomplishment for a team that finished ninth at the 2000 Olympics.

It was, after all, only the fifth-place game -- played before a crowd of less than 1,000. But at least Spain didn't have to settle for the embarrassment of finishing sixth.

That distinction belongs to the Americans.

''Quit is a very hard word,'' Karl said, disagreeing with that assessment. ''They got frustrated, felt the pressure a little bit, didn't finish some plays that they would have completed on their own teams because of their familiarity with each other.''

The United States won its first five games of the tournament to improve to 58-0 when using NBA players in international competitions, then lost three of their final four to Argentina, Yugoslavia and Spain.

Juan Carlos Navarro, a draft pick of the Washington Wizards, led Spain with 26 points. NBA Rookie of the Year Pau Gasol had 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Raef LaFrentz led the U.S. team with 13 points, and Ben Wallace had 12.

''This is a good experience (for the Americans) to establish what happens when you lose, and to analyze it, because the world is changing,'' Imbroda said.

Michael Finley made one of two foul shots for a 75-72 lead, but that would be the final point for the Americans.

Navarro's two foul shots with 2:09 left made it a one-point game, and a foul shot by Jose Antonio Paraiso tied it with 1:37 remaining. Finley missed for the Americans and Gasol then missed for Spain, which grabbed the offensive rebound. Gasol's two foul shots with 52 seconds left put Spain ahead for good.

Gasol missed two free throws with 35 seconds remaining and a chance to give Spain a four-point lead, but Finley missed a 3 for the U.S. team at the other end.

Navarro's two free throws with 19.4 seconds left made it 79-75, and Reggie Miller was called for a double dribble at the other end.

''We didn't play the right way, we didn't play with the passion of the other teams,'' Antonio Davis said.

After scoring Spain's first five points, Gasol picked up two fouls in quick succession midway through the first quarter and was not much of an offensive factor the rest of the half.

The U.S. team held a double-digit lead for most of the half, and Pierce's 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Americans a 50-40 lead at the break.

Ben Wallace had an alley-oop dunk to complete a 6-0 run to start the third quarter, making it 56-40 before Spain inched back within nine by the end of the quarter.

The Americans went ahead 69-56 early in the fourth before Spain made its comeback.



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