Team USA took care of business, beating Italy 100-63 to advance to the FIBA World Cup semifinals. There was no lethargic start for the U.S. today, as the defensive focus was present from the jump, allowing the Americans to jump to an early double-digit lead. They never looked back and cruised to victory, with Mikal Bridges leading the team with a 24-point performance off the bench.
Austin Reaves had a productive game as well, scoring 12 points in 19 minutes, and had a couple of highlight plays including a big putback dunk.
Jaren Jackson Jr. earned two quick fouls in under three minutes to start the game, forcing Steve Kerr to go to Paolo Banchero early. Banchero was peppered with boos once he entered the game — a result of his Italian roots and rejection of their national team to represent the U.S. — but handled it well, serving as a positive on the defensive end and ending the game with 8 points in his 24 minutes of play.
The U.S. as they pressed on defense from the jump, contested every three and even won the rebounding battle, something they haven’t been doing all tournament 16-8 in the opening quarter. After a stepback three from Reaves, Team USA extended the lead to nine points on their way to a 24-14 opening quarter of play.
Reaves didn’t have a standout half, but he did have the aformentioned highlight dunk, with the two-handed putback rocking the crowd and putting an exclamation point on a stellar first half of play by the Americans. With Italy only mustering up 10 points in the second quarter the game was essentially done at the break, with the U.S. up 46-24.
Even so, Bridges was maniacal in the third quarter. He hit a three, got a tech for taunting the Italian bench, and presumed to hit another three on his next possession; then forced a steal, was fouled, hit his free throws, and then another three. Having a player like Bridges coming off the bench in international play is a luxury no other team has.
Reaves hit a corner three to extend the lead to 73-36 and this game was all but over with a quarter and change still left.
With it being an elimination game scenario and players still making cases for a bigger role in this tournament, you didn’t see garbage time play from the U.S. today. The defense stayed aggressive with multiple 24-second violations and the third quarter was capped off with a between-the-legs alley-oop lob from Tyrese Halliburton to Banchero, who slammed it home.
Midway through the fourth up 39, Reaves started his final shift in the game. He had a nice dime to Walker Kessler who finished with a reverse flush, and Reaves followed that up with a couple of nice crossover finishes and a few more points in the closing minutes as Team USA punched their 14th semifinal ticket in FIBA World Cup action.
Seeing the U.S. dominate after a loss, it’s clear they took a lesson from that defeat and brought the appropriate energy to this elimination game. They didn’t start slow, initiated a 1-3-1 press right away, won the rebounding battle 51-33 and quickly put Italy to bed.
Reaves and the rest of USA Basketball will play their semifinal game on Thursday, Sept. 7 against the winner of Germany vs. Latvia, with a World Cup Final appearance on the line. If the U.S. wins on Thursday, it will be the first time they reach the FIBA World Cup Final since 2014.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.