USA Men's U18 National Team Victorious Over Venezuela 82-73
July 14, 2008 - Formosa, Argentina
Paced by a 15-point, seven-rebound effort by Travis Wear (Mater Dei H.S. / Santa Ana, Calif.), the 2008 USA Basketball Men's U18 National Team (1-0) vanquished Venezuela (0-1) 82-73 on Monday afternoon in the opening game of the 2008 FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Formosa, Argentina. The U.S. also received double-digit scoring from Ryan Kelly (Ravenscroft H.S. / Raleigh, N.C.), who had 12 points and a game-best 10 rebounds; and University of Connecticut freshman-to-be Kemba Walker (Rice H.S. / New York, N.Y.), who posted 12 points and five assists.
In the day's other games, Puerto Rico (1-0) dropped the Bahamas (0-1) 97-65, while Canada opens against Mexico at 5:30 p.m. (all times listed are EDT) and host Argentina takes on Uruguay at 8:00 p.m.
The USA next faces the Bahamas at 2:00 p.m. on July 15 and closes out preliminary round play against Puerto Rico at 6:00 p.m. on July 16. The semifinals will be played July 17 and the gold medal game will be contested July 18.
'(Venezuela was) highly motivated, they brought a degree of intensity, they were able to spread us out, make a couple of threes, they were able to drive and draw some fouls,' said USA and Davidson College head coach Bob McKillop. 'I'm delighted with the way our guys hung in there, didn't panic when we were down early. We didn't start pointing fingers, we just dug deeper and somehow found a way to get the lead and hold that double-digit lead until the last possession of the game.'
Walker scored the USA's first 10 points, but the USA found itself trailing early and was down 23-17 with 1:43 to go in the first quarter. Kelly got a bucket and a free throw, while Dominic Cheek (St. Anthony H.S. / Jersey City, N.J.) smothered his man, came up with a steal and a dunk to pull the score to 23-22 at the end of the period.
Venezuela came out of the quarter break and went up 28-23 in the first two minutes. However, the USA remained focused, especially on the defensive end where it forced 20 Venezuelan turnovers overall.
With 4:13 to go in the first half Maalik Wayns (Roman Catholic H.S. / Philadelphia, Pa.) broke a 31-31 tie, giving the United States a lead it would never relinquish. Wayns' jumper also helped spur a 16-5 run that closed out the half with the U.S. on top, 47-36.
'Yeah, coach wanted us to keep the pressure on them, ball pressure and stuff,' said Mason Plumlee (Christ H.S. / Arden, N.C.). 'He said that eventually they'll get tired. We've got 12 guys who can all play and we use all 12 of them. Most teams don't have that; most teams have five or eight who can all play. I think it was a good strategy.'
The red, white and blue held Venezuela at bay by no less than 10 points through most of the second half, going up by as much as 17 points, 66-49, late in the third quarter. With a little less than three minutes in the game, however, and the USA holding an 80-67 advantage, Venezuela attempted one final comeback, but the U.S. was too strong and closed the game with the 82-73 win.
'They were being a little more physical than us and I think there were (setting) a lot of screens, there was a lot of help defense on their part so we couldnï¿½t get really get into our flow,' said Wayns. 'We weren't making a lot of shots early, but we were making shots at the end, which is what we want.'
In addition to Kelly, Walker and Travis Wear, Plumlee and University of Kansas freshman-to-be Travis Releford (Bishop Miege H.S. / Shawnee Mission, Kan.) scored eight points each. Plumlee also grabbed eight boards.
Venezuela's Emilio Cappare led his squad with 17 points.
The USA, which got 41 points out of its bench, outrebounded Venezuela 47-41, dished out 16 assists on 30 baskets and came up with 11 steals. The strong inside game of the U.S. led to 46 points in the paint, including 12 second chance points.
'We felt since day one that Kemba Walker was the catalyst for our team,' added McKillop. 'He's the one that started us off, he's a superb leader. He just gets better and better and makes everyone around him better. I thought Travis Wear and Travis Releford were sensational, as was Ryan Kelly. Ryan Kelly and Travis Wear gave us great interior scoring, added buckets and rebounds. Travis Releford did everything: rebounded, ran the court, defended, got loose balls, made shots inside and was extremely, extremely effective and efficient in running our offense.'
With the win, the USA upped its all-time record at this event to 30-1.
Virginia Commonwealth University head coach Anthony Grant and Georgetown University head coach John Thompson III are serving as assistant coaches
Featuring eight U18 national teams from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean, the 2008 FIBA Americas U18 Championship will qualify the top four finishing teams for the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship, slated to be held July 2-12 in New Zealand.
Following preliminary round play the top two teams in each group advance to the July 17 medal round semifinals and the gold medal game will be contested at 8:00 p.m. on July 18.