The United States are headed to the medal round of the Basketball World Cup, bouncing back from their first loss of this year’s tournament in emphatic fashion.
Mikal Bridges scored 14 of his 24 points in the first half, Tyrese Haliburton added 18 and the US were airtight for long stretches defensively on their way to beating Italy 100-63 in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
Tuesday’s win ensures the 15th top-four finish for the Americans in 19 World Cups. They will play either Germany or Latvia in Friday’s semi-finals; those two teams play their quarterfinal game in Manila on Wednesday.
It was 46-24 USA by half-time, with Austin Reaves providing the exclamation point with a follow-slam that had teammates out of their seats. The Americans were in complete control at that point despite Anthony Edwards – the team’s leading scorer entering Tuesday, averaging just over 20 points in the first five games of the World Cup – not even getting on the scoresheet until the first possession of the third quarter.
His heroics weren’t needed. The defense – which was shredded for 110 points in a six-point loss to Lithuania on Sunday – held Italy to 6 of 31 shooting over the final 15 minutes of the first half. Lithuania started 9 for 9 from three-point range against the US; Italy started 2 for 21 on Tuesday.
Simone Fontecchio led Italy with 18 points.
It was the quarter-final round where it all went wrong for the US at the World Cup four years ago in China. A loss to France in the last eight eliminated the Americans from medal contention and started a freefall all the way to seventh place, the worst finish ever by a US team in a major men’s international event.
That won’t happen this time. Win Friday, and the US are assured of a medal. Win Friday and Sunday, and the Americans will be flying home with gold.
Italy had beaten the US only twice in 14 previous tries at the senior men’s national level, both times at the world championships, which Fiba now calls the World Cup. The first was in 1970 on the way to a fifth-place finish for the US The second was in 1978, in Manila no less, a defeat that helped relegate the Americans to a fifth-place finish that year as well.
In Tuesday’s other quarter-final, Serbia beat Lithuania 87-68. They will play Slovenia or Canada for a place in the final.