With Olympic bid clinched, U.S. faces Argentina in FIBA final

Sep 2, 2007 - 7:00 PM LAS VEGAS (Ticker) - Now that the United States has secured its berth to the Beijing Olympics, it can begin the process of regaining its once dominant hold on the international basketball.

Team USA will aim to secure its first international title in four years when it faces Argentina in the gold medal game of the FIBA Americas Championship on Sunday.

Winless on the international stage since a gold medal at the 2003 edition of this tournament that qualified it for the Athens Olympics the following year, the U.S. has flashed some of that previous dominance here that started with the "Dream Team" in 1992.

Undefeated in nine games over the past 1 1/2 weeks, the U.S. have rolled through its competition here, including a 135-91 victory over Puerto Rico in the semifinals on Saturday - the win that clinched the team's spot in next year's Olympic Games.

It was a measure of revenge for the United States, which was shocked by Puerto Rico en route to a disappointing bronze-medal finish at Athens.

"We qualified for the Olympics," said U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski, who took over the team when Jerry Colangelo was named the director of USA Basketball in 2005.

"A lot of people think it's always a done deal, but it's not a done deal until you do it. Puerto Rico was so good in the first half. We knew they would be because they can control tempo with their terrific guards."

One of top guards for the U.S. all tournament has been the Milwaukee Bucks' Michael Redd, who scored 23 points, shooting 7-of-8 from 3-point range.

Redd was not a member of the 2004 Olympic squad or the one that placed third at the 2006 World Championships - teams that struggled to establish a consistent scoring threat from outside.

Overall, Redd is averaging 15.4 points in the tournament, shooting 46 percent (28-of-61) from the arc.

Next up for the U.S. is Argentina, another team that helped snap the Americans' run of three straight Olympic gold medals won. The South American club posted an 89-81 victory in the semifinals in Athens, denying the United States an appearance in the gold medal game.

Team USA has already beaten Argentina, posting a 91-76 victory in the final game of second-round play on Thursday.

The Argentines, who also clinched a berth to Beijing with a 91-80 victory over Brazil on Saturday, have gone 8-1 in the tournament despite not having the services of some of their top players.

Missing from the gold medal-winning squad at Athens are Manu Ginobili and Fabricio Oberto of the San Antonio Spurs, Andres Nocioni of the Chicago Bulls and the Charlotte Bobcats' Walter Herrman.

Despite that, the U.S. do not plan to take its second meeting with Argentina in the past week lightly.

"We want to finish it (the FIBA Championships) out on a good note," United States star Kobe Bryant said. "We know Argentina is going to be ready. We're very excited about the matchup and see what type of adjustments they make, because you know they will. They are very talented and extremely well-coached. We have to be ready."

In the earlier contest for the bronze medal, the Phoenix Suns' Leandro Barbosa and Brazil faces Puerto Rico.

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