United States forward Mikal Bridges said his team were “just plain hungry” after they overpowered Italy on Tuesday to book their place in the Basketball World Cup semi-finals.
The US beat Italy 100-63 to rebound from their first defeat of the tournament, a loss to Lithuania in the second round two days earlier.
The Americans fell behind early against Lithuania but they had no such problems with Italy, leading by 10 points by the end of the first quarter.
Bridges, who led the US in scoring with 24 points, said the mantra heading into the quarter-final game was to “set the tone”.
“That’s what the coach has been preaching to us,” he said.
“The bench has been doing a pretty good job but I think the starters have been letting them down a little bit with a slow start.
“The coach got us prepared and we were just plain hungry.”
The US never gave Italy a chance to get started, learning their lesson after allowing Lithuania to nail their first nine three-point attempts.
The Americans limited Italy to just 24 points in the first half — the second-lowest tally ever from a team appearing in a World Cup quarter-final.
“We took a tough loss last game,” said US centre Paolo Banchero.
“It felt like we didn’t play up to our standards on the defence end, so we wanted to come out and make a statement on defence.”
The US will face either Germany or tournament sensations Latvia in the semi-finals on Friday.
‘Same energy, same force’
Head coach Steve Kerr said he was not worried about his players letting their energy levels drop after such a high-octane performance.
He likened his team to “the horse turning back to the barn”.
“The horse starts picking up the pace when it senses it’s near the barn, and that’s what happening right now—our guys are sensing this is the end of the journey,” he said.
“They know what’s ahead, they know what the goal is and I have no doubt they’ll come out with the same energy, the same force in the next game.”
Tyrese Haliburton was the winning team’s second-highest scorer with 18 points, followed by Austin Reaves on 12.
The pair provided two of the highlights of the game, with crowd favourite Reaves stuffing in a huge rebound dunk in the first half.
Haliburton conjured up another memorable moment in the second half, setting up Banchero for an alley-oop with a pass between his legs.
“I thought he was going to hit it off the backboard, then he went between his legs,” said Banchero.
“I wanted to do a dunk off the backboard but he put it through his legs.”
Italy were appearing in their first World Cup quarter-final since 1998.
Head coach Gianmarco Pozzecco said his team “didn’t deserve” to face the US in the last eight after winning their second-round group.
Power forward Nicolo Melli said there was “nothing this group could do more”.
“We did everything we could do. This season we will work even harder and come back next year, and again and again and again,” he said.
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