July 25, 1996 in Sports

U.S. Moves Yawnward Pulls Away To Beat Ailing Lithuania

By The Spokesman-Review
 

How much is enough? Team USA is still trying to figure that out.

Thanks to a 37-17 run bridging the first and second halves, the United States ran its Olympic basketball record to 3-0 with a 104-82 victory over Lithuania at the Georgia Dome on Wednesday night.

Or was it the Lithuanian JVs?

NBA veteran Sarunas Marciulionis sat out the game to rest an injured knee, and Portland Trail Blazers center Arvydas Sabonis was limited to less than 10 minutes for the same reason - though it seemed to take more out of the Americans than the Lithuanians.

“We were expecting Sarunas to play and Sabonis was out early,” said USA guard John Stockton, who himself played just 12 minutes. “I think that took a little wind out of our sails. Guys had been looking forward to this game.”

And yet, with Lithuania’s two big names on the bench, the score was knotted at 40 3 minutes before intermission - Lithuania having nailed six 3-pointers and complementing those with 13 points inside from 6-foot-9 Gintaras Einikis.

But Grant Hill lobbed in two 3s for the U.S. before the buzzer, and 3 minutes into the second half Gary Payton triggered an 8-0 American run that included a pair of dunks by Scottie Pippen - convincing enough that Sabonis was summoned to the bench to rest for upcoming games against Angola and China.

It was the United States’ first time over 100 points in this tournament, after the 1992 Dream Team averaged 117 points per game.

And Donn Nelson, a veteran NBA assistant coach who is on the Lithuanian staff, ventured that the host team “is starting to look vulnerable.

“We don’t know if it’s a chemistry thing that’s missing, or if it’s not the medal rounds yet, it’s not serious time yet. If you ask the guys in the red, white and blue, I don’t think they know. But with the kind of team we had in there at the end and playing as poorly as we did, we would have expected this to be a 30- or 40-point game.” Indeed, guard Darius Lukminas, who had scored just two points in Lithuania’s first two games, had 15 this night. Einikis doubled his tournament total with a game-high 21.

But the U.S. forced Lithuania into 22 turnovers - 18 of those coming on American steals. It was the first real sign of the pressure, ball-hawking defense U.S. coach Lenny Wilkens had touted before the Olympics.

The U.S. lineup got another juggle. Gary Payton joined the starters this time, while Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway sat out the entire first half.

“I still think we’re going to smooth it out,” said Stockton, who had a pair of steals and four assists. “Everybody wants to put us in a position where we’re making excuses. There’s no need for that. We’re winning ballgames. Tonight, we must have missed 15 or 20 free throws and that’s concentration. That’s something we can get better at.”

Charles Barkley led the Americans in scoring with 16 points, while Reggie Miller and Karl Malone had 14 apiece - though Malone made an early exit after cutting his hand on the rim. He required seven stitches.

In other action, Dino Radja and Toni Kukoc combined for 36 points to lead Croatia to a 71-48 rout of Angola. Australia nipped Brazil 109-101 in double overtime with Shane Heal getting 35 points. Yugoslavia whipped South Korea 118-65, China dumped Argentina 87-77 and Greece upended Puerto Rico 80-69.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Local watch How Washington and Idaho athletes fared on Wednesday: Baseball: Travis Lee (Olympia). The Americans improved to 3-0 with a 15-3 romp over the Italians. Men’s soccer: Goalkeeper Kasey Keller (Lacey), and the U.S. played to a 1-1 tie against Portugal and was eliminated from competition. Shooting, Lance Bade (Ridgefield), finished in a tie for 10th in men’s double trap. Roger Mar (Seattle) was 11th in the qualifying round of men’s 25-meter rapid-fire pistol. Rowing: The U.S. women’s eight, with Monica Tranel Michini (ex-Gonzaga) and Betsy and Mary McCagg (Kirkland), won the repechage heat over Canada by a mere .32 seconds in 6:06.17 to qualify for Sunday’s finals.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Local watch How Washington and Idaho athletes fared on Wednesday: Baseball: Travis Lee (Olympia). The Americans improved to 3-0 with a 15-3 romp over the Italians. Men’s soccer: Goalkeeper Kasey Keller (Lacey), and the U.S. played to a 1-1 tie against Portugal and was eliminated from competition. Shooting, Lance Bade (Ridgefield), finished in a tie for 10th in men’s double trap. Roger Mar (Seattle) was 11th in the qualifying round of men’s 25-meter rapid-fire pistol. Rowing: The U.S. women’s eight, with Monica Tranel Michini (ex-Gonzaga) and Betsy and Mary McCagg (Kirkland), won the repechage heat over Canada by a mere .32 seconds in 6:06.17 to qualify for Sunday’s finals.


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