USA fights off Venezuela for the win, remains undefeated
By Chris Kaftan
PRAIA GRANDE, BRAZIL: 17 June 2012 –Behind a dominant performance from Jonathan Valencia, the United States never lost its poise in a close game over Venezuela, the #2 ranked team in the world, winning over their Pan American rivals, 76-67. Valencia finished with 25 points and five rebounds.
Trailing by five points in the opening quarter, 20-15, the United States outscored Venezuela in the second quarter with a strong performance in the paint and took the lead with 42-40 at halftime.
"Venezuela really runs the court," said Danny Gabel, assistant coach for the United States. "They are a really fast team, especially in the transition."
"I felt like we were playing for the gold medal [tonight]," said veteran Jeremias Valencia, who had 16 points and dished out four assists. "It was a hard fought game and we were very competitive. Our hats are off to Venezuela as they are a very quick and good team."
Venezuela played hard as they capitalized off the United States’ missed shots and got out in the transition. Venezuela regained the lead in the third quarter with 56-55, outscoring the United States, 16-13.
"In the second half, the coaches got into us a little, but and we took that as a challenge", said Steve Valencia-Biskupiak, who scored 11 points, including hitting the crucial 3-point from the top of the arc in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Valencia-Biskupiak also grabbed 11 rebounds. "We hadn't really any adversity since we beat two teams [Canada and Mexico], so we got that first taste of adversity, and I think we did well today".
The United States’ scoring run stretched into the fourth quarter, the United States took the lead for good at 68-67 with guard Raymond Nelson’s lay-up. Nelson finished with nine points. Venezuela came close to the Unites States with eight points, in the final two minutes, but the United States never relented.
The physical play of both teams was evident as the United States was called for 23 fouls and Venezuela had 22 fouls, including four technical fouls.
"In the second half I thought our guys did good job of getting the ball inside and attacking to the baskets instead of shooting treys", said head coach Keith Westhoelter. "Obviously our big guys were in foul trouble, we did a good job playing with poise."
"I definitely felt we needed a game like this to help us prepare, to make sure we are on the edge", said Jeremias Valencia. "It won't be an easy game in the medal round because we will face Venezuela again. It is a learning experience on the international level for our young team."
In the game, the United States held a 38-26 rebounding advantage and its seven offense boards help overcome inconsistent shooting behind the 3-point line. The United States exceled from the foul line, hitting 12 for 18. One statistic that Venezuela led in was steals, gaining 17 steals while the United States had four steals.
"I have reminded the team numerous of times that Venezuela is a very good disciplined and quick team, and you have to give them credit, they came out strong. It was tough battle for us, but we pulled through", said Westhoelter.
The United States continues its preliminary round play versus Argentina, Monday at 5 p.m. Brazilian time (1+ EDT).