BARCELONA, SPAIN – They have a gold medal to chase and a golden U.S. basketball legacy to protect, so the Americans knew they had to bring their best to Barcelona.
Stephen Curry sure did.
Curry made six 3-pointers and scored 20 points Saturday, leading the U.S. national team into the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup with an 86-63 victory over Mexico. The Americans next play on Tuesday against Slovenia, which lost to the U.S. 101-71 in an exhibition game Aug. 26 in the Canary Islands.
Curry was 7 of 10 from the field and 6 of 9 behind the arc, further evidence that one of the game’s best shooters was moving past his dismal start to the tournament. Golden State Warriors teammate Klay Thompson added 15 points.
Curry said the U.S. team is improving with every game, just as a similarly young American squad did four years ago in winning gold in Turkey.
“In 2010, we did that,” Curry said. “Every game was fun, it was energetic, just enjoying the ride and I think now we’re here in Barcelona and got our first medal game under our belt, we got the wheels going and excited to get back to work on Tuesday.”
Curry was just 4-for-17 overall in his first two games in Bilbao, though he shot better over the next three. He saved his best performance for Barcelona, where the Americans are used to them.
He made consecutive 3s early in the third quarter when the Americans put away the game, the second coming as he was knocked down by a defender who was lucky not to be called for a foul.
Gustavo Ayon scored 25 points for Mexico, which won last year’s FIBA Americas tournament to qualify and then advanced as the No. 4 team out of Group D despite a 2-3 record.
The 206-cm Ayon played for the Atlanta Hawks last season but his season was cut short by right shoulder surgery in February. He is a free agent and showed enough footwork and shooting touch to warrant a look from someone else.
“I’m very happy about my own participation in this game but I know I have to keep working as a team, as a player,” Ayon said through an interpreter.
Rivals Spain and France will meet again in the quarterfinals after both won in the second round.
Pau Gasol scored 13 of his 17 points in the first quarter as host Spain routed Senegal 89-56 to remain unbeaten after having also dominated all five games of the group phase.
France, meanwhile, had to overcome an early deficit to eliminate Croatia 69-64, as Nicolas Batum scored 14 points and Evan Fournier had 13 for the European champion.
“Once again Spain, and once again it will be a fight,” France’s Mickael Gelabale said. “We have three days to prepare for this game. France and Spain is like a clasico game, and everybody is waiting for it.”
The neighboring countries have clashed in the past two summers, with Spain ousting France in the 2012 Olympics, and France getting revenge in last year’s European Championship.