Members of Team USA have compared the rigorous schedule at the World University Games to playing in the Big 12 Tournament in March. But at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Kansas players — who form the majority of Team USA’s roster — had to play only three games in three days.
In Gwangju, South Korea, U.S. players are set to take the court eight times in a 10-day span.
Team USA navigated its way to the conclusion of game No. 6 Friday night, leading wire to wire and remaining untarnished in the tournament after defeating Lithuania 70-48 in the quarterfinals. The United States used a dominating run in the fourth quarter to bury its latest international opponent.
“We played a bad third quarter, but we defended,” Kansas coach Bill Self told reporters after the game. “Even though we only scored eight points in the third quarter, they only got 12. Then we go on a 25-2 run, and it was because of defensive rebounding.
“We absolutely locked them up the last 13 minutes of the game. That was really a good display against a team that had been leading the tournament in scoring.”
Next up for the Americans is a semifinal matchup against Russia, another nation with a rich basketball heritage. The tip is set for 4:30 a.m.Sunday inside Dongkang Gymnasium. (The game will be televised on ESPNU.)
It is the first time Team USA has made an appearance in the semifinals at the World University Games since the Americans took the bronze medal all the way back in 2009.
“That’s what we came here for,” junior big man Landen Lucas said, when asked about playing for a medal. “We still have two more games to focus on. Any medal besides gold and we’ll feel like we didn’t really accomplish what we wanted to. So we’re going for that gold.”
The U.S. finished pool play unbeaten at 5-0 in Pool D, its closest game coming in the form of a 66-65 victory over Serbia on Tuesday. Team USA then closed out the round-robin portion the following day with a 39-point drubbing of Switzerland, which allowed principals Wayne Selden Jr. and Frank Mason III a rare block of rest as both sat the entirety of the fourth quarter.
After receiving one of only two days off during their 10-day march to a possible title, the Americans took the floor Friday with fresh legs, and it showed — especially on the defensive end. Lithuania entered quarterfinal play as the top-scoring team at the Games, averaging 87 points per outing. Team USA allowed only six points in the fourth quarter and held Lithuania 39 points below its tournament average.
The Americans zipped around the floor, forcing 10 first-half turnovers and aggravating the Lithuanians, who mustered only 30 points in the opening 20 minutes. The style of play looked as if it may threaten Team USA’s stretch run, as Carlton Bragg, Jamari Traylor, Hunter Mickelson and Selden all carried two fouls into the third quarter.
The U.S. led 37-30 heading into the second half, but after shooting 50 percent from the field to open the game, produced only eight points in the third quarter and watched a double-digit first-half lead evaporate down to one heading into the fourth.
Then, the Americans’ offense sprung to life.
Leading 43-42, the U.S. put together a 14-0 run over more than 5 minutes to start the final quarter, creating both breathing room and a scoreboard gulf that proved too wide for Lithuania to navigate.
Mason led the way for Team USA with 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while Selden — who leads the tournament in scoring — poured in 13.
“Everything starts with me — it’s starts with the point guard,” Mason said. “So I try to come out and do everything I can to get my team going. The guys did a great job of following and coming along.”