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updated: 8/7/2012 2:33 PM

US men confident heading to Olympic hoop quarters

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  • The United States' Andre Iguodala, right, celebrates Monday next to Argentina's Marcos Mata, left, in the second half.

      The United States' Andre Iguodala, right, celebrates Monday next to Argentina's Marcos Mata, left, in the second half.
    associated press

 
Associated Press

LONDON -- Defiant and defensive, Mike Krzyzewski hardly sounded like he coaches the best team in the world.

He's tired of the criticisms of the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team, fed up with questions about why it isn't as easy for the Americans as it used to be. For more than 13 minutes Tuesday, Krzyzewski fought back against every notion that his squad should never dare find itself in a close game.

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Now it's time for his players to answer for themselves.

The quarterfinals start Wednesday against Australia, the Americans needing three victories -- however they get them -- to win the gold medal that seems such a foregone conclusion most times, but far from a sure thing during long stretches of their last two games.

"We're undefeated, now we're 0-0. Like, our team's done a really good job," Krzyzewski said. "I mean, we have great camaraderie, we're healthy. Again, you all can do whatever you want with the dominance thing, but it ain't happening. It's just not happening and we know that. So if you're looking at a game for us to dominate every minute of the game, it will not happen. They're too good. People are too good and so if you can win minutes, segments, then that adds up to a win, which is what we want to do."

The U.S. went 5-0 in pool play, facing only one close game but showing an alarming lack of commitment to defense in the last two victories for a team that has always insisted that defense is its strength.

Or maybe it's no concern at all, not when a team can score the way these Americans can.

Kobe Bryant sure isn't worried.

"No, because in literally one minute we can go on like a 10-0 run," he said. "So I'm not concerned right now."

The Americans were locked in a one-point game with Argentina at halftime Monday after allowing 56 percent shooting. Then they buried the Argentines under a 42-17 avalanche in the third quarter, rolling to a 126-97 victory. That came two nights after the U.S. was shredded for 58 percent in its 99-94 victory over Lithuania.

The U.S. is allowing 79.6 points per game, a number that would rank nearer the bottom of the 12-team field if not for all the teams whose average was ruined because they had to play against the Americans and their tournament-best -- by a marathon length -- 117.8 points averaged.

"I would like to see our defense play a little bit longer, as close to 40 minutes then to 20, 25, 30," LeBron James said. "But you know we have so many heavy hitters and so many home run hitters that we could break up a two-point game into a 13-, 14-, 15-point game in two or three possessions, you know, two or three minutes. It's great to be a part of something like that.

"It's not dangerous for our team because it's not like we're out there not playing hard. It's not like we're out there not caring, because when we get to the sideline we say 'Hey, we've got to pick it up defensively, we've got to start playing defensively' and then we lock in. So I like the way we've been playing."

So does Krzyzewski, but sometimes he feels as if he's in the minority. He's been around international basketball for much of his coaching life and was an assistant 20 years ago on the Dream Team, so he's watched opponents go from fearful to fearless when they play against the United States.

"How many of them are NBA players? Why wouldn't they be?" Krzyzewski said. "I mean, you're out there with (Manu) Ginobili and (Luis) Scola, they play against these guys all the time. They're not intimidated by anybody and the other thing is, if a team does not have as many NBA players, what do they have to lose? So they're playing with free money. In other words, there are different things that you're defending besides an opponent's offense: their egos, their opinion of you.

"That's just the way it is and it's been that way -- I don't know why people don't understand this it's been that way for a long time. It's been that way for a decade and we understand that."

Australia has been a frequent elimination-round opponent for the Americans in recent years and another that won't be in awe. The teams went at it hard in an exhibition game four years ago and the U.S. players who were on that team expect more of the same as the competition moves to the North Greenwich Arena -- or the O2 to the NBA players who have already had games there.

"They're definitely another aggressive team, another physical team, a team that likes to scrap," Carmelo Anthony said. "Everybody likes to scrap out there, so it'll be another one of them games."

Speedy point guard Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs led the Aussies to a 3-2 record in Group B, including an 82-80 victory over top-seeded Russia on Monday. Mills won it on a 3-pointer at the buzzer and is averaging 20.2 points, just off Pau Gasol's tournament-best 20.6 per game. But the Americans will likely swarm him defensively, and there isn't enough firepower around him.

"We understand the level of talent we'll be up against," Australia coach Brett Brown said. "Our focus will be on playing prideful Australian basketball. The players are looking forward to playing them and will use it as a measuring stick to see what level they are on now."

The Americans will be expected to crush them from the start, and perhaps Krzyzewski is right about that being unfair and unrealistic. Nobody remembers during his victory laps if sprinter Usain Bolt was slow out of the blocks.

The only thing that matters is the finish, and the U.S. is on track for the one it wants.

"We're focused on this," Krzyzewski said. "We're ready. Let's go."

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