By Chris Kaftan
PRAIA GRANDE, BRAZIL: June 20 2012 – The United States sailed past Brazil in the final game of the preliminary round, defeating the host country 91-38. With the win, USA secured the #1 seed entering the medal round.
USA’s quickness, power inside the paint and defensive focus quickly took its toll on Brazil and their ability to compete against the Americans. The United States jumped out on a 26-6 lead in the first quarter and never looked back.
Forward Derek Keels scored 22 points, including the first eight points in the first quarter. Keels registered seven rebounds, four assists and four steals.
“We are unselfish team,” said Keels. “We don’t have many superstars. We have a lot of players who can play and when we have a core that, everybody knows what it takes to win the games, we have played in big games and this is what it is going to take to win the medals.”
“Our guys on the bench did a great job being focus on the game and be ready to play,” said assistant coach Michael Yance. “I think we played well but we have to emphasize the importance of crushing the boards and playing solid defense.”
The United States gradually increase their lead with a 40-10 at halftime. During the third quarter, the United States struggled to find their offensive flow, allowing Brazil to score ten points.
“I thought we had a few jitters,” said head coach Keith Westhoelter, who was referring the team’s performance in the second and third quarters. “We were not moving the ball well and not using their [Brazil’s] defense movements to penetrate.”
“Then, once we kind of got into the flow of things, we got better. Then obviously we picked it up in the second half.”
The strength of the United States’ roster was especially evident in the fourth quarter as it was too much for Brazil to handle as the Americans earned 22 assists.
Raymond Nelson also had 22 points, including three acrobatic, high-flying, in-traffic dunks. Nelson also had five rebounds and dished out five assists.
“I have never seen this young kid’s high-flying, powerful dunks,” said Westhoelter. “He is a bright versatile ball player.”
Forward Joe Estep registered a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Estep blocked three shots as well. Wally Reyes tallied 16 points including two treys. Steve Valencia-Biskupiak chipped in with eight points.
The United States took advantage of the lack of defensive rebounding by Brazil and earned 23 offensive rebounds in the paint.
“We have 11 guys who can play,” said Wally Reyes. “We definitely wore them out at the second half, especially with the intensity of our defense.”
“Our coaches wanted us to play hard defense and let the offense take of itself,” added Reyes.
The top four teams advance to the medal round to complete for the Pan American championships. By virtue of its unbeaten play, number one seeded USA will face number four seeded Canada Thursday, June 21 at 7 p.m. Brazilian time (1+ EDT). Number two seeded Venezuela will play number three seeded Argentina at 5 p.m.