Team USA faces familiar, but tougher, foe in semfinal matchup
The criticism has come in waves for Team USA, and each time it has responded.
"They can't shoot," the pundits roared. A 52.6 percent night from the field -- including 47.4 percent from three-point range -- in a 55-point rout of Angola in the Round of 16 proved otherwise.
"They're too inexperienced," they grumbled. Sure, the U.S. has six players who are 22 or younger and not a single representative from the 2008 Olympic Redeem Team. But those youthful knees refused to buckle in a two-point win over well-regarded Brazil in group play.
And what about size?
Outlasting the Russians wasn't easy, either. Backed by a simple but brilliant game plan -- pack the paint and bump and grind the U.S. guards as much as you can on the perimeter -- by coach
"There is no kid in the world that loves to play more than [Durant]," U.S. coach
While Durant has earned his praise, so have his teammates. Team USA's pre-tournament camps in Las Vegas and New York were plagued with inconsistency, and even in group play the Americans appeared out of sync. Not so in the knockout round, where the U.S. has operated with laser-like precision, evidenced by the five turnovers it committed against Angola and the eight against Russia.
"In pool play, sometimes you try to make the home-run play -- a behind-the-back pass or a full-court outlet pass," Durant said. "We're just making the right play and are better at finishing. We still have a long ways to go in that area but we have gotten better since the first game."
There is little rest for the weary, however. Argentina was considered one of the favorites coming into the competition and
"This is a different team,"
Lithuania has a few familiar faces. Krzyzewski will recognize
Controlling Kleiza and Co. will be important, but for the U.S., this game can be won in the backcourt. Lithuania is loaded with shooters but short on quality ball handlers. The pressure defense the U.S. employed to force 18 turnovers against Russia should be equally effective against Lithuania. If the Americans can turn this game -- or any game for that matter -- into a track meet, it is to their advantage.
"They're looking for revenge,"
Indeed, a gold medal is within the U.S. team's reach. At this point, it appears each member of the team is keenly aware of that.