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ATHENS 2004

U.S. Tunes Up Against Angola

With nothing at stake, Americans roll, 89-53. Unbeaten Spain is next in quarterfinals.

August 24, 2004|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — Where's Charles Barkley when you need him?

Without Barkley to create an international scene with his old friends from Angola as he did in the 1992 Olympics with a vicious elbow smash, there was nothing to distinguish Monday's men's basketball game between Angola and the United States from all those runaway laughers back when the U.S. team really was a dream team.

Tim Duncan softly laid the ball into the hoop to begin the game, the U.S. raced to a 5-0 lead and was never caught, running up a 40-point advantage at one point before cruising to an 89-53 victory at the Helliniko Indoor Arena.

The U.S. team took the court for its final preliminary game with a 2-2 record, but secure in the knowledge it had already qualified for the medal round. The U.S. will face unbeaten Spain on Thursday night in the quarterfinals, with the winner going on to play the Argentina-Greece winner.

Duncan had the team high in points with 15 while playing only 13 minutes. Carlos Boozer led in rebounds with nine on a night when Coach Larry Brown emptied his bench in a dress rehearsal for the important games ahead.

"This was a fun game because we got to play a lot of people," Brown said.

The whole Olympic experience was not a lot of fun for Angola, which failed to win any of its five games, but Coach Mario Palma gains his satisfaction from the fact Angola was even in Athens.

Angola has been ravaged by civil war since gaining its independence from Portugal in 1975. And even though an unsteady peace has now come to Angola, these are still troubled times.

"Basketball is just not an important thing in our country right now," Palma said. "We are concerned with education, food, refugees. To do what we do in basketball with all that is incredible."

Those who do play must often learn the game on outdoor concrete courts.

"We are also small," Palma said, "because most of the tall players are in the southern part of our country where there is still fighting."

And as if all these factors weren't limiting enough, Angola played Monday with three injured starters.

"How can we beat the United States?" Palma said. "It is impossible. No way. If we had our injured players back, maybe we would lose by only 20."

There wasn't much competition evident in Monday's game, even though six Angola players -- Angelo Victoriano, Edmar Victoriano, Antonio de Carvalho, Victor Muzadi, Carlos Almeida and Miguel Lutonda -- have previous Olympic experience.

The U.S. had an overwhelming 52-17 edge on the backboards, outshot Angola 55% to 31% from the field, and held Angola to six-for-25 three-point shooting. The U.S. made three of six from that range.

"Given peaceful conditions and the right organization," Palma said, "two Olympics from now, we could win a gold medal."

The other quarterfinals pit unbeaten Lithuania against China and Italy against Puerto Rico.

In the final round-robin games Monday, China got the final Group A spot by defeating Serbia and Montenegro, 67-66, behind 27 points from Yao Ming; Spain defeated New Zealand, 88-84; Lithuania defeated Australia 100-85; Italy edged Argentina, 76-75, and Greece defeated Puerto Rico, 78-58.

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