In a close semifinal battle, the USA (6-0) played on a strong fourth quarter effort to edge out a 92-86 victory over Canada (5-1) and advance to the gold medal game at the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup for Men in Riga, Latvia.
Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Louisiana Tech/Port Arthur, Texas) led the USA in scoring with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, Mike Miles (TCU/Lancaster, Texas) added 15 points, Chet Holmgren (Minnehaha Academy/Minneapolis, Minn.) chipped in 12 to go with a team-best eight rebounds and a USA U19 single-game record six blocks and Ryan Kalkbrenner (Creighton/St. Louis, Mo.) rounded out the USA’s double digit scorers with 10 points.
With only a six-point lead (69-63) entering the fourth quarter, the USA went on a 17-0 run starting at the 7:34 mark of the final period, holding Canada scoreless for 3:36 and securing a 20-point lead (88-68). Despite Canada hitting some late shots down the stretch, the Americans were able to retain their lead to secure the win.
“We were up by 20 with a couple minutes left, so we built a big lead, and I liked how we played,” said USA head coach Jamie Dixon (TCU). “I especially liked our play in that stretch in the fourth quarter and having that lead was a good position to be in.”
The game started as a back-and-forth battle, with the USA eventually getting out to a 13-6 lead. Canada quickly answered back to bring the game within two points (19-17) with two minutes left in the quarter. The Americans held strong to win the quarter 24-19 and continued their balanced offense behind points from nine U.S. players in the opening period.
In the second quarter it was much of the same as the USA extended its lead. The Americans closed the final 4:11 of the half on a 13-5 run to secure an 11-point halftime advantage (49-38), their largest lead of the game to that point. Miles led the USA in the first half with nine points and Adam Miller (Louisiana State/Chicago, Ill.) added eight points, three rebounds and three assists in the half.
Canada held tough in the third, winning the quarter 25-20 and trailing by only six points to stay in the game going into the final stanza. The fourth quarter run from the USA however, proved to be too much to overcome, sending the Americans to the gold medal game.
“I thought we had a great game today, we left it all out there and I am happy we came out with the win,” said USA forward Holmgren. “I’m impressed with our focus. I mean we haven’t had much to focus on other than winning this gold, so, we’re staying focused. We want the gold, and everyone is coming together to get it.”
“I just do what I’ve got to do to help the team out, said Lofton. “Make layups, shoot short jumpers, pick and roll, and just do everything great.”
Despite the 7-foot-4 frame of Canada’s Zach Edey, who had game-highs of 16 points and 16 rebounds, the USA’s big men played strong, matching Canada in team rebounds 50-50.
“I thought our big men were really good,” said Dixon. “We started Ryan (Kalkbrenner) for a reason, and I thought he did really well. He had 10 points, rebounded well and did a pretty good job. We really attacked their big guy (Edey) on ball screens and made it hard. We got a lot of penetration based on that, so we attacked him on that, and I thought we made some good decisions.”
The USA dished out 22 assists in the game, forced Canada into nine turnovers, which led to 11 points, and outscored its opponent 52-30 in the paint. The Americans also finished with a USA U19 single-game team record for blocked shots with 13. The USA leads all 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup teams in total points (582), assists (159) and blocked shots (50) and is third in rebounds (308).
With the win, the USA advances to the gold medal game on Sunday, July 11, at 12 p.m. EDT, and will play France (5-1) fresh off its 75-69 win over Serbia (5-1). It will be the fourth time in the last five FIBA U19 World Cup events (2019, 2015, 2013) that the USA men will play in the gold medal game.
“I am excited about playing for the gold,” said Lofton. “That is the main thing, and that’s the reason we came here, to compete for the gold medal. Now that we are in the championship it is time to finish off with a win.”
In the other contests from today, the classification games saw Puerto Rico (2-4) take down South Korea (0-6), Spain (4-2) held off Senegal (2-4) 83-67, Mali (1-5) blew out Japan (0-6) 104-66, Lithuania (4-2) defeated Argentina (2-4) 107-81 and Australia (3-3) took down host Latvia (3-3) 89-44. Iran (2-3) and Turkey (2-2) are still set to play.
Assisting Dixon on the USA sidelines are assistant coaches Jerod Haase (Stanford) and James Jones (Yale).
Reigning FIBA U19 World Cup gold medalist, USA men’s teams have won seven gold medals, three silver medals and one bronze medal while compiling an 104-14 overall record in U19 World Cup play since the event was launched in 1979. Even more impressive, the USA has won four of the past six U19 golds since 2009.
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