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USA Loses to Greece in 2006 World Semifinals




| Sept. 1, 2006

The USA's dream of capturing the World Basketball Championship title ended Friday night in Japan when a sizzling hot Greek team had too much offense for the USA and posted a 101-95 victory in the semifinals of the 2006 World Championship.

The European champion's victory earned Greece (8-0) a date against 8-0 Spain in Sunday's gold medal contest. The U.S. (7-1) completes World Championship play Saturday in the bronze medal game against Argentina (7-1), 75-74 losers in today's other semifinal game. Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Japan time / 6:30 a.m. EDT).

"Their offense beat our defense," summarized U.S. head coach Mike Krzyzewski. "I though that our kids played with great heart. We lost to a team that played a great game. They (U.S.) played with all their hearts and they played against a team that played with all their hearts."

Things looked good for the USA in the game's first 14 minutes.

Riding a 7-2 spurt over the opening quarter's final 3:16 the U.S. had opened a 20-14 lead after the first quarter.

Leading 26-21, Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets) scored four points and Joe Johnson (Atlanta Hawks) hit a 3-pointer to push the American advantage to 12, 33-21 with 6:27 left before half.

With the U.S. on the verge of breaking the contest wide open, Greece suddenly got its offense rolling and went on to outscore the U.S. 24-8 over the remainder of the second quarter.

Getting scoring from four different players, Greece scored nine straight points to cut the U.S. lead to 33-30. The Greeks run was interrupted by a three point play by the USA's Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic) that left the score in the USA's favor 36-30.

Greece got eight straight points from 6-9 center "Baby-Shaq" Sofoklis Schortsanitis and went on to outscore the USA 13-2 to move ahead 43-38 with 47 seconds left in the first half.

Greece led 45-41 at halftime and with 7:18 to play in the third period and holding on to a 56-50 advantage, Vasilis Spanoulis and Dimitris Diamantidis hit back-to-back 3-pointers for Greece, the second coming just an instant before the shot clock sounded, and Greece grabbed control 62-50.

Trading baskets the remainder of the third quarter, heading into the game's final 10 minutes the Americans faced a 77-65 deficit.

Greece continued to turn back each USA comeback with big baskets. Following a basket from LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers) with 3:13 left in the game the USA had pulled within six, 89-83, Spanoulis scored off a drive to up the lead back to eight.

Kirk Hinrich (Chicago Bulls) kept the USA's hopes alive with a 3-pointer that made the score 91-86 with 2:41 left, but Spanoulis drained a three to up Greece's lead to 94-86.

The U.S. made one last desperate run.

Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat) made a steal and converted it into a layup to make it 94-88, and after Spanoulis made one of two free throws, Hinrich nailed his fourth 3-pointer of the game to make it 95-91 with 36 seconds left.

Greece's Mihalis Kakiouzis made two free throws and James scored on an offensive rebound that left the score 97-93 with 24 seconds to play.

Forcing a five second violation on the inbounds play, the USA's Anthony missed a deep, pressured three, Greece secured the rebound and sealed the win after Antonis Fotsis and Kakiouzis each converted both of their free throws to collect the 101-95 win.

Anthony led the U.S. effort and finished with a game best 27 points, Wade added 19 points, James tossed in 17, Hinrich scored 12 points and Howard tallied 10 points.

The U.S. shot 50.0 percent for the contest, but managed to make just 9-of-28 3-pointers. The USA also hurt itself from the foul line, converting on 20-of-34 tries.

Greece, after making just 4-of-12 shots in the first quarter, finished the game shooting a redhot 62.5 percent from the field and made 8-of-18 from beyond the 3-point arc.

The U.S., which entered the game having forced opponent into 19.9 turnovers a game, was able to force Greece into only 11 total turnovers, just two coming in the second half.

"They played like a champion plays," said Shane Battier. "At the end of the day, the team that walks away from the tournament with the gold medal is the team that plays well together, makes basketball plays and play with their heart. It sounds simple, but very few people can do that. That is why being a champion is so hard to do."

Greece's scoring was led by 22 points from Spanoulis, who is expected to play for the Houston Rockets next season, Kakiouzis added 15 points and Schortsanitis had 14 points.

"You have to give Greece credit, they did a great job. Obviously it wasn't our best defensive effort, we gave up a lot of points tonight and we got down and just couldn't get back," said Hinrich. "We'll have to bounce back, No matter what happens in the second game, we're going to play a great team tomorrow and we're going to have to bounce back and play a lot better than we did tonight that's for sure if we're going to win and bring home the bronze. There's a big picture here, we're getting ready for the Olympics, then at the same we've got to come back tomorrow and send a message."

In Thursday's consolation semifinals, Turkey rallied to record a 95-84 overtime win against Lithuania and France held off Germany 75-73. Thursday winners Turkey and France will play Saturday in the 5th/6th place game, while Lithuania and Germany will face off in Sunday's 7th/8th place game.

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