ISTANBUL // After one lacklustre victory during pool play, Mike Krzyzewski, the US coach, encountered some feistier competition in his news conference than his players faced on the court. One reporter asked: "Why didn't the USA score more?" Said another: "Why isn't the team practicing?"
Maybe the two issues were related. The Americans finally got into the gym for practice Saturday, the first step in what they believe will be cleaner play during the elimination round of basketball's world championship. "We haven't played as consistent in the preliminaries as we wanted to for the most part, but I think this practice helps us get our execution and timing back and our aggression on defence," said Stephen Curry, a guard with the Golden State Warriors. "So I like where we're at."
The US play Angola tonight in a round-of-16 knockout game. Slovenia poured in 16 of 33 three-point attempts to rout Australia 87-58 last night. France and the host Turkey were to meet in a late game. On Saturday, Aleksandr Rasic scored five points in the final 21 seconds as Serbia slipped past their Balkan rival Croatia 73-72, and Juan Carlos Navarro scored 22 points as Spain eliminated Greece 80-72.
The Americans earned some time off over the weekend by winning Group B with a 5-0 record. Krzyzewski said the practice on Saturday was the Americans' first since August 27, the day before the tournament started. They then had games on three consecutive nights, opted not to practice on the group's off day before closing with games on consecutive days. The players were given a day off Friday, then practiced both Saturday and yesterday.
"Somebody said, 'Well, why aren't you practicing?' Well, we're playing games," Krzyzewski said. The US did not look sharp in a 92-57 victory over Tunisia on Thursday. Neither were they impressive in the 88-51 victory over Iran that preceded it. But they believe the lack of sharpness was because they were playing overmatched opponents in games that didn't matter to their seeding. "These practices are going to really help us, because we really didn't have any practice time in those games," said Kevin Durant, the forward for Oklahoma City. "None of those games, actually."
Krzyzewski had warned that teams can have slippage when just playing games and not practicing, so the players welcomed the chance to work, even in the steamy gym belonging to a Turkish club team. "You can get better in the games, but when you have time to break down plays, run repetitions, just compete against each other, I think it definitely will get us excited and prepared for the next four games," Curry said.
Four games would mean the Americans would be playing next Sunday for the gold medal, and they have a draw that gives them a chance. They should be heavily favoured against Angola and the Russia-New Zealand winner before they would probably face unbeaten Lithuania, Argentina or Brazil, who the US beat 70-68 in pool play. * Associated Press