‘Squadzilla’ squashes Japan

by Jack Gallagher

OMIYA, Saitama Pref. — The United States men’s Olympic team put a wrap on its brief Japan tour Wednesday night by scoring a decisive 105-49 victory over the host nation in the final game of the Super Dream Games 2000 tournament at the new Saitama Super Arena.

Playing before a crowd of 21,080, Japan just could not come up with the formula to even keep it close against the American NBA stars, as the U.S. players tuned up for a run at their third straight gold medal in the Sydney Olympics later this month.

Superstar Vince Carter led Team USA with 18 points, which included several gravity-defying dunks that thrilled the crowd. Vin Baker added 17 as six different players tallied double figures in the victory.

Alonzo Mourning was the top board man for Team USA as they outrebounded Japan 55-32, while Jason Kidd dished out a game-high nine assists.

Guard Takuya Kita led Japan with 13 points, while veteran Makoto Hasegawa added seven.

Carter had an incredible two-handed rejection of a shot from guard Kenichi Sako just under two minutes into the game. As Sako drove the lane on a fast break, Carter flew in and cut him off at the hoop, rejecting his try for a layup with a maneuver that ended up making the shot look like a blocked field goal in football.

“They didn’t show fear and they didn’t give up when they fell behind,” said Carter of the Japan team.

“The most important thing is for us to improve our conditioning with every game. Personally, I want to gain experience from playing with this team, because I am probably the youngest guy,” the 23-year-old — and youngest guy — added.

Playing without star forward Michael Takahashi didn’t make the task any easier for Japan. Takahashi blew off the first week of training for the tournament in August and was told by coach Tom Newell not to bother coming at all.

Steve Smith found Carter with a beautiful alley-oop pass for a reverse dunk with 10:38 left in the first half that brought a roar from the crowd.

Japan kept contact until the Americans started to open it up with seven minutes left in the half.

Payton was called for a foul when he smashed Sako in the face with an elbow as he ran through the lane without the ball, then mouthed off to the referee and was hit with a technical foul. Payton then made it a trifecta when he leveled Sako with a moving screen on the ensuing trip up the floor.

After Payton’s performance, Team USA started playing more physically and Baker was called for a foul for delivering an elbow to the face of forward Satoru Furuta.

Kita nailed a jumper from beyond the 3-point arc for Japan just inside the three-minute mark to try and stop the bleeding, but Team USA continued to capitalize on its advantage inside and widened its lead to 58-23 at the half when Ray Allen buried a 3-pointer from near halfcourt as the buzzer sounded.

Baker led the Americans with 11 points at the half, while Carter had 10. Mourning had a team-high five rebounds before the intermission as Team USA outrebounded Japan 29-14.

Kita was Japan’s top scorer in the first half with 10 points. Japan had plenty of open looks at the basket, but shot a miserable 6-37 (.162) in the half.

Team USA shot an incredible 24-32 (.750) from the floor in the first half.

Carter teamed up with Baker and Shareef Abdur-Rahim for a pair of alley-oop slams early in the second half as the U.S. made it 70-29 with 13 minutes left in the contest.

Rahim went to his bag of tricks when he stole the ball and went behind his back while in the air before slamming the ball home on a breakaway.

Japan was more aggressive after the break as play begin to open up and the game was already decided. Japan was definitely not lacking in ability, but just could not find the mark from outside and kept driving the ball into the paint trying to score, which resulted in many blocked shots and several turnovers.

“In this country, Godzilla is a folk hero,” said Newell. “What you have seen these past few days is the American version of it called ‘Squadzilla.’ But they showed respect for us and that meant a lot.

“My biggest problem before the game was taking away the pens, paper and cameras from my players because they wanted to take pictures and get autographs.”

With just under seven minutes left in the game, Team USA had doubled the score on Japan to 82-41.

Mourning, who scored seven points off the bench, will miss the final two games of the preliminary round of the Olympics to return home and be with his wife, who is expecting their first child. Mourning tweaked his right ankle with nine minutes left in the first half, when he became entangled with one of his teammates, but escaped major injury on the play.

Kevin Garnett sat the game out with a jammed thumb he injured in Team USA’s 95-66 victory over Spain on Tuesday. The injury is not considered serious.

Due to the short duration of their stay, the Americans did not have much time to get out and about.

“A lot of room service, telephone calls home and steamed rice,” said Baker succinctly.