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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | BASKETBALL

U.S. Is Quick Learner in Art of Wall Climbing

Men's basketball: Americans put Chinese in immediate foul trouble and roll to 119-72 victory in opener.

September 18, 2000|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — China's towering front line is known as the Walking Great Wall.

Make that the sitting Great Wall.

Wang Zhizhi, a 7-foot-1 center, committed his third foul only 5:03 into China's 119-72 loss to the U.S. men's basketball team Sunday in its opening game of the Olympics, then picked up his fourth 25 seconds later.

The U.S. players watched as 6-11 Menk Bater sat down with his fourth foul with 3:20 to play before halftime.

Then Yao Ming, who is 7-5, took a seat with 1:38 left in the half before fouling out 1:10 into the second half.

"I looked down there and they had the 7-5 guy taking stats," U.S. forward Antonio McDyess said. "He fouled out so early, I'm talking about literally, he was taking stats."

Whether you call it a Dream Team or not, the U.S. passed the margin test in its debut, beating China by 47 points in front of 8,319 at the Dome.

It wasn't quite the 62 points the 1996 team beat China by in Atlanta, 133-71, but it was sufficient.

"People are going to emphasize the slow start. We won by 50 points, so that doesn't make a difference," guard Gary Payton said after a game in which the U.S. trailed by six points early before taking a 60-38 halftime lead.

"We just want to win a gold medal," Payton said. "We can't compare ourselves to the Dream Team in '92 and the Dream Team in '96. That's not a good comparison for us. It puts too much pressure on us to try to compare. We just want to win a gold medal and they'll put us all on the same boat."

One thing this team has is youthful exuberance, and Vince Carter and Kevin Garnett put it on display with some playful dunks during warmups.

If the game wasn't the slamfest you were waiting for, well, remember, it's hard to dunk from a standing start at the free-throw line, and the fouling by the slower-footed Chinese big men sent the U.S. there early and often.

On the other hand, sometimes it's simply hard to dunk.

Carter missed two dunks, and was sheepish afterward even though he made a couple of others.

"The shoes made me miss two dunks," said Carter, who signed a $30-million shoe deal Saturday. "I told the Nike guy, 'Your shoes made me miss. I've got to rethink this.' "

Carter finished with 16 points but the U.S. was led by Ray Allen, who scored 21 on eight-of-10 shooting, including three of five three-point shots.

Guard Allan Houston, recovering from a sore wrist, didn't play but is expected to return Tuesday when the U.S. faces Italy, which upset Lithuania Sunday.

Carter was excitable early, especially after Yao blocked one of his shots.

"I think Vince was just a little bit juiced today, and he just got overwhelmed with the beginning of the game," Payton said. "He settled down and then he started playing like Vince Carter can play.

"I mean, everybody has a little juice running though them, and it was his first game in the Olympics.

"He came in at halftime talking about he's sorry to me, and I said, 'Hey, you don't have to be sorry,' because he missed a dunk, missed some assignments and stuff. I just told him to settle down, and that's what he did."

The game was also a coming-out party for Wang, a Dallas Maverick second-round draft pick in 1999 who cannot leave the country until he completes his military service, and Yao, 20, who has not yet declared his intentions for the NBA draft but said after the game he eventually will.

"Yes," Yao said, though he was noncommittal about when. "It's too early to say."

Wang has been more talked about, but Yao has marvelous finesse and passing ability and like Wang can put the ball on the floor.

"I was impressed by both," U.S. Coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "No. 15 [Wang] is very smooth but unfortunately did get in foul trouble.

"He pulled outside, which was a great strategy, and made shots. His future could be as a [shooting guard.]

"In the future, those guys are really going to make their mark."

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