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Hellas 101, U.S. 95
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SAITAMA, Japan (AP) -- Fed up with its recent failures, USA Basketball assembled a new program with a new plan and a new coach in Mike Krzyzewski.
The end result was all too familiar.
Greece used a sizzling stretch of shooting across the middle two quarters to turn a 12-point deficit into a 14-point lead, and beat the Americans 101-95 Friday in the semifinals of the world championships.
"To lose any game is a shock to us," U.S. star Carmelo Anthony said. "We came in with the mentality to win the game and the gold medal."
Instead, the best Anthony can do now is add another bronze to his collection.
Greece (8-0) can earn a world title to go with the European championship it won in 2005 with a victory over Spain in Sunday's gold-medal game. Spain (8-0) beat Argentina 75-74 on Friday night.
"They played like a champion plays," U.S. forward Shane Battier said of Greece.
The Americans will have to wait at least two more years to remember what that feels like.
Done in again by their inept 3-point shooting -- and they weren't much better from the foul line -- the Americans will fall short of a championship in a major international tournament for the third straight time since winning gold at the 2000 Olympics.
The Greeks -- with no current NBA players on their roster -- danced in a circle at halfcourt after their victory.
"Big players play big games," said guard Theodoros Papaloukas, the MVP of the European final who had 12 assists Friday. "And today I think we played very good."
The U.S. (7-1) will return to the court Saturday against Argentina (7-1), hoping to match the bronze medal it left Athens with in 2004.
"Those guys are hurting," said USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo, who was put in charge of the program after a sixth-place finish in the 2002 worlds preceded the disappointment in Athens. "It's probably a better thing we have to come back tomorrow and play again instead of sitting on this for two days."
Anthony scored 27 points for the Americans, who couldn't overcome their 32 percent shooting from 3-point range or 59 percent from the foul line. Dwyane Wade added 19 and LeBron James had 17, but the three U.S. captains were unable to make up for their disappointment from Athens.
Vassilis Spanoulis, bound for the Houston Rockets, scored 22 points for Greece. Mihalis Kakiouzis added 15 and 6-foot-10 Sofoklis Schortsianitis -- nicknamed "Baby Shaq" -- added 14, shooting 6-of-7.
"Basketball is not just about dribbling and shooting," said Greece coach Panagiotis Yannakis, who took a congratulatory call from Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis after the game. "You can come off the bench with a clear mind and give the best of your talent and that's what our players did today."
In Greece, thousands gathered in the streets, waved flags and honked car horns. Traffic information screens flashed the final score, and drivers abandoned cars to join celebrating crowds.
Continuously burning the Americans' poor defense against the pick-and-roll, the Greek team shot 63 percent (35-of-56) from the field and made 31 of 44 shots over the final three periods.
"We didn't make the right adjustments," U.S. center Chris Bosh said. "They ran the same play. We made it easy for them."
The U.S. hasn't even played for a world championship since winning the last of its three titles in Toronto in 1994. Krzyzewski -- who was looking for gold after winning bronze with the 1990 team -- and a few American players walked to midcourt to congratulate the Greeks, while most of the U.S. roster quickly headed to the locker room.
The Americans, who put together a national team program this year for the first time, now will be forced to qualify for the 2008 Olympics next summer in the FIBA Americas tournament in Venezuela.
"This one hurts," said Colangelo, who assembled the team. "We had the gold medal as our goal and anything short is disappointing. We go back to work and get ready for qualifying next summer."
The U.S. seemed in control after Joe Johnson's 3-pointer gave the Americans a 33-21 lead with about 6 1/2 minutes left in the second quarter. It was around then that James told his teammates on the bench: "They don't know what to do."
Well, they figured it out in a hurry.
Greece scored nine straight points, pulling within three on Papaloukas' drive with 3:51 left and forcing Krzyzewski to call a timeout. Dwight Howard converted a three-point play, but the Greeks answered with a 13-2 surge, featuring eight points from Schortsianitis, to open a 43-38 lead and force Krzyzewski to call a second timeout.
Greece hit nine straight shots -- its only miss in the last 5 minutes was a heave from halfcourt as time expired -- and led 45-41 at halftime. The Greeks shot 56 percent (15-of-27) in the half.
The Americans were 2-of-10 from behind the arc -- after going 10-for-40 in their quarterfinal victory over Germany -- and trailed at the break for only the second time in the tournament. Italy had a nine-point cushion in a group play game.
Greece kept it up in the third quarter, hitting 14 of its 18 shots, including all four 3-pointers in the first 5 minutes. Kostas Tsartsaris' 3-pointer with 5:45 left in the period gave the Greeks a 65-51 lead -- the biggest deficit the U.S. faced in the tournament.
After shooting 4-of-12 in the first quarter, Greece was 25-of-33 (76 percent) in the second and third and led 77-65 heading to the final period.
"It seemed like they didn't miss the whole third quarter," Wade said.
Anthony, Wade and James combined for the first 18 U.S. points in the quarter, and the Americans eventually got as close as 95-91 on Kirk Hinrich's 3 with 36 seconds to play. But the U.S. missed its final two attempts from behind the arc, capping a 9-of-28 night.
"...the best evaluation of players is subjective judgment...The real baseball world is inevitably going to be hundreds of times more complicated than the model that we construct...." -Bill James
9/1/2006, 11:14 am
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