BASKETBALL: U.S. loses to France, 89-79, in FIBA World Cup quarterfinals; Australia advances

Evan Fournier led France with 21 points on the way to an 89-79 win over the U.S. (Photo: FIBA)

The U.S. men’s national team will not be playing for a medal in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, losing in the quarterfinals to France, 89-79, in Dongguan. Evan Fournier (22), Rudy Gobert (21) and Nando de Colo (18) scored 61 of France’s points and withstood a 29-point explosion from Donovan Mitchell for the U.S.

The game went back and forth, with the U.S. down by as many as 10 in the second quarter, but leading, 66-63, going into the fourth quarter. A Khris Middleton layin made it 74-67 for the U.S. with 7:39 to play, but France went on a 9-2 run to tie the game at 76 on a three-pointer from Frank Ntilikina.

France kept the pressure on and a Fournier layin, a Gobert dunk and a Ntikikina jumper extended the run to 15-2 and the lead to 82-76 with 2:05 to go. The U.S. got its first points in 3:57 on a Kemba Walker layup with just 1:33 to go, ending a streak of five possessions in which the American squad was 0-3 from the floor, missed two foul shots and had a turnover.

Now, the French were up 82-78 and after Fournier missed a jumper, Mitchell’s layin try was blocked by Gobert with 53 seconds left and all the U.S. could do was foul. De Colo made eight straight foul shots to close out the game.

France out-scored the U.S. in the final quarter by 26-13 and ended the game on a 22-5 run. The Americans were out-rebounded by 44-28, out-shot by 47.6-44.6% and France made 21-25 free throws to only 14-21 for the U.S. (Boxscore)

Said U.S. coach Gregg Popovich, “ I think that Coach [Vincent] Poulet and his group have done an outstanding job. It’s the best French team I’ve seen, because they play on both ends of the court. It’s not just an offensive team that – it’s not just a couple of guys on their own. They play on the defensive end, they are physical, individually they play well, defensively as a group, switching, weakside, rebounding. They fit together really well. All the parts fit. They are deep, and they were wonderful tonight.:

Popovich was asked, of course, about the players who didn’t play for the U.S. and he had a ready answer:

“It’s also a disrespectful notion to bring something like that up and say, ‘You didn’t have this guy or that guy.’ That’s disrespectful to France and whoever else is in the tournament. France beat us. Doesn’t matter who is on the team, and I couldn’t be more proud of these 12 guys who sacrificed their summer to come here, having never played with each other before, and they put themselves in the arena and competed, and they deserve credit for that. Just like France deserves credit for winning. It’s not about, well the United States didn’t have their other guys. There’s no such thing as other guys. These are the guys that were here, and they did a great job, and I’m very proud of them.”

Jaylen Brown said afterwards, “Like everybody knows what we wanted to do, and we didn’t do it. I guess you can imagine how we feel, right?”

Beyond Mitchell’s 29 for the U.S., Marcus Smart scored 11 and Kemba Walker had 10. The team continued to shoot poorly from the three-point line, making only 7-20.

The loss ended a 24-game World Cup win streak for the U.S. and a 58-game streak in international tournament play. The last time the U.S. lost in the World Cup was 2006 and the last time the U.S. failed to win a medal was 2002.

But the games go on. The U.S. is now in the places 5-8 bracket and will finally play Serbia after all, on Thursday in Dongguan.

In the other quarterfinal, Australia used a 30-18 third quarter to overwhelm the Czech Republic, 82-70. Guard Patty Mills was again the star for the Aussies with 24 points, plus 14 from Chris Goulding and 10 from Andrew Bogut. Patrik Auda had 21 for the Czechs.

The semifinals will be on the 13th in Beijing, with Argentina and France and Spain and Australia competing. Argentina won the first FIBA World Championship back in 1950 and Spain won in 2006. France won the bronze in 2014, but this is the furthest the Australians have been in this tournament.