July 7, 1999
From Release on USABasketball.com
PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain – Center Chris Mihm (Texas / Austin, Texas) scored a team high 15 points to pace a balanced scoring attack that saw five players score in double figures as the 1999 USA Basketball Men’s World University Games Team (4-0) claimed a 97-88 victory over Lithuania (3-1) in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Wednesday night in a battle of two previously undefeated teams. The win lifts the U.S. into sole possession of first place in Pool B, one game ahead of Lithuania and Greece (3-1), which defeated South Korea 98-88 here on Wednesday.
The USA will close out preliminary round play on Thursday night against Greece, and a U.S. win will lock the Americans into the top seed out of Group B. A United States loss on Thursday, though, coupled with a victory by Lithuania in its contest with Czech Republic would deadlock the USA, Greece and Lithuania in a three-way tie for first place with each team owning a 4-1 record. Under the rules of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), three-way ties are broken by point differential.
“I was pretty pleased with the win tonight. The thing that concerns me is that after we got a lead, we started matching baskets with them. We had maintained the defensive focus that we had in the previous ball games and we put the game away with that kind of defense. Overall I was pleased. I thought it was a good win. Certainly, the score was not indicative of the way we controlled the game but I’d like to see us have a little more stick-to-it-iveness particularly as we progress in this tournament,” said USA head coach Oliver Purnell of the University of Dayton. “Greece will be the most physical team we’ve faced so far. They appear to be playing well. They are certainly looking to be one of the two teams out of our bracket that advances to the medal round.”
The victory enabled the United States to take one step closer to its sixth consecutive gold medal, its 12th gold medal in 16 appearances, improves its all-time World University Games record to 106-6 (.946), and the U.S. has now won each of its last 36 World University Games contests. Against Lithuania, the USA is 2-0 all-time in the World University Games.
Helping key the U.S. victory Wednesday were point guards Scoonie Penn (Ohio State / Salem, Mass.) and Erick Barkley (St. John’s / Brooklyn, N.Y.), who combined for 21 points (9-18 FGs), eight rebounds, six assists and six steals. “I like being in the backcourt with Erick,” Penn said. “Either of us can get the ball, we can push it out, we can play the wing. Where it really helps our team out is on defense because we can both press the ball up and down. We both end up with a lot of steals. When Erick and I are together, we work out well.”
Also scoring in double figures for the USA Basketball squad were Cory Bradford (Illinois / Memphis, Tenn.) and Kevin Freeman (Connecticut / Springfield, Mass.), each of whom totaled 10 points. Penn checked in with 11 points, and Barkley added 10. Center Brendan Haywood (North Carolina / Greensboro, N.C.) continued his strong play, pulling down a team high seven rebounds.
Bradford helped initiate the run that put the United States for good. With 14:18 to play in the first half, Bradford broke free for a dunk and was fouled, putting the USA ahead 14-10. From that point on, the U.S. managed a 15-5 run that lasted 4:01 and put the Americans ahead 27-15. On the night, Bradford converted each of his first three shots and finished shooting four-of-six from the floor.
“(The three-point) play was a huge turning point in the first half,” Bradford said. “I felt it was a boost and I was just trying to get everyone else into the game, which it did. They went to a zone. I don’t know if they were tired or they just wanted to see if we could shoot. But I tried my best to knock down some shots against their zone, and we pulled them out of the zone and forced them to (play man-to-man). And that makes us better offensively.”
A quick 12-4 spurt later in the half upped the USA advantage to 39-24 with 5:37 left and was capped off by a Freeman three-point play. In the second half, the Americans saw their lead increase to as much as 22 points, 76-54, with 12:34 to play. However, Lithuania finished the game with a 15-4 run that sawed the final score to 97-88.