USA bounces back with best outing of World Cup, routs Italy 100-63

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Italy v USA: Quarter Final - FIBA Basketball World Cup

Italy v USA: Quarter Final – FIBA Basketball World Cup

Sometimes the best adjustment is just to play better.

The USA brought defensive intensity from the opening tip. Jalen Brunson didn’t ease into the game and was a force early. Mikal Bridges was hitting seemingly every shot he took in the first half. The USA’s ball pressure and backline defensive rotations were sharper, and the created stops led to transition opportunities, where the athletic Americans thrive.

Their loss to Lithuania clearly served as a wake-up call for Team USA, which played its best game of the World Cup on Tuesday. The Americans used their size and athleticism to overwhelm a solid Italian squad and run away for a 100-63 victory.

With the win the USA advances to the World Cup semi-finals, where on Friday it will face the winner of Wenesday’s Germany vs. Latvia matchup.

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The USA played better, but also ran into an Italian team not as well suited to exploit their weaknesses as Lithuania (or Serbia, which beat Lithuania in the other quarter-final on Tuesday). The Americans also didn’t run into a team that hit its first nine 3-pointers or shoot better than 50% from beyond the arc, which helped.

Some things seemed the same for the USA — Jaren Jackson Jr. picked up two fouls less than three minutes into the game (one because of a miscommunication on a pick-and-roll switch, leaving him to chase down and foul the roll man under the basket, one on a questionable offensive foul). The second Jackson was out Italy forced the switch and hit a 3 over his replacement, Paolo Banchero.

However, the USA just picked up their defensive intensity from there, and the ball pressure bothered the Italians, who had just a 62.6 offensive rating in the first half (via Joe Viray).

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Athleticism on the ball was never the American’s biggest issue, it was not sending early help on mismatches in the post after a switch (there is no illegal defense in FIBA, the help can and does come earlier, a habit NBA players are slow to adapt to). The Americans were much sharper on that end in this game.

Bridges led the way with 24 points, and Tyrese Haliburton had his best game of an already impressive World Cup with 18 points and a team-high five assists. Austin Reaves added a dozen and had one of the highlight plays of the night.

Utah Jazz second year forward Simone Fontecchio led Italy with 18 points.

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The USA needs to bring this intensity the rest of the way — the teams ahead of them are better than Italy and better built to test the USA’s weaknesses. It’s going to take more efforts like this to win gold.

One other note: Paolo Banchero was booed during introductions by the Italian cheering section (no, they were not saying “Paoloooooo”). As a rising star in the USA, pre-Covid, he was set to play for the Italian national team, but it never happened because of the pandemic. By the time that was over, he was playing at Duke — with its close ties to former Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski — and that had Banchero reconsidering his international allegiance. He ultimately chose to play for the USA. That one still stings in Italy.

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