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Olympics: Team USA can't afford mistakes in medal rounds

Published August 7, 2012 5:00 pm

Olympic basketball • Americans know they aren't unbeatable.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

London • No mistakes, now.

No slip-ups.

The star-studded U.S. men's basketball team is finally into the win-or-go-home medal rounds of the London Olympics, having learned one crucial thing during its five preliminary games, despite its standing as the world's pre-eminent hoop power.

"We can be beat," forward Kevin Durant said, "if we don't come out and play the way we're supposed to play. You have to always turn on. We can't try to turn on in the third quarter. From the beginning of the game, we have to be focused, and I think it was a good lesson for us — especially that Lithuania game."

The powerhouse Americans enter a quarterfinal matchup with Australia at the North Greenwich Arena on Wednesday night having won all five games so far, but they haven't always been dominant, leaving the door of hope cracked just a bit for the other teams in the field.

While they're capable of amazing shooting, the Americans have endured some dry spells from outside. They can smother teams on defense, but at times have been carved to pieces. They needed a late surge to beat Lithuania 99-94, then had to recover from allowing 59 points to Argentina in the first half of what became a 126-97 victory.

"Yeah, it's a little concern," Durant acknowledged. "But I think we always do a good job of bouncing back."

The Australians arrive in the quarterfinals having gone 3-2 in group play, with a stunning 82-80 last-second victory over medal-contending Russia in their last game.

Guard Patty Mills, the former Saint Mary's star who now plays for the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, is averaging 20.2 points per game, and "has had an amazing tournament," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Just an incredible tournament."

The Australians figure to follow the example set by Lithuania and, to a lesser extent, Argentina, which tried to slow the game down and avoid getting into a run-and-gun contest with the supremely athletic Americans.

"They play with great heart, and they're extremely well coached," Krzyzewski said. "I think they probably play as good a defense as anybody in the tournament. Their man-to-man defense — the times I've watched them — has been coordinated, with great effort and they have a good spirit."

The Americans are 6-0 all-time against Australia in the Olympics, and have won the last three meetings — twice in the Olympics, once in the World Championships — by an average of nearly 24 points.

Center Andrew Bogut, a former All-American at the University of Utah, is not playing for the Aussies this summer while he recovers from an ankle injury .

"We understand the level of talent we'll be up against," Australia coach Brett Brown said. "I think what makes this even more intimidating is that over the years, they've fixed the 'rent-a-player' type of mentality that they've had in the past and they actually have a team. They have a core group, they've had the same coach. … Combine that with the talent, and it's a whole new story."

Funny, the Americans are aiming for the same old story — another gold medal.

"I want to go out with a bang these next few games," Durant said.