By Mary Cunningham
USA coach Mike Krzyzewski squirmed a bit last night.
Venezuela slowed the pace, made the U.S. work on defense and trailed the mighty Americans by two points early in the second quarter.
Then, the U.S. men’s basketball team turned up the defensive pressure and unleashed its powerful offense and turned that two-point lead into a 22-point halftime advantage.
The U.S. fought through a turnover-ridden, foul-plagued start and defeated Venezuela 113-69, setting up a matchup of 2-0 teams when the U.S. plays impressive Australia in group play today
“They try to control tempo and did for a long period of time. They make you play defense, and then we fouled a lot as a result of that, because you have to play it longer,” Krzyzewski said. “We didn’t get a good offensive rhythm because of their defense, and then in the second quarter, our defense picked up. I thought Jimmy (Butler) was a huge factor in that. He just came in and really gave us a big lift. I thought DeAndre (Jordan), those two guys defensively kind of picked the whole thing up for us. I think we wore them down as the game went along.”
Carmelo Anthony scored 14 points and passed Michael Jordan as the USA’s No. 3 all-time leading Olympic scorer. Anthony could pass David Robinson and LeBron James for first place against Australia.
Kevin Durant scored 16 points, and Jordan had 14 points and nine rebounds. Paul George (above) led all scorers with 20 off the bench. Butler had 17 points and was a plus-29 in 20 minutes.
Venezuela shot 34% from the field but stayed close through the first 14 minutes because of made free throws. It trailed 24-22 before the U.S. closed the half on a 24-4 run.
“Basically the first thing we talked about was guard without fouling,” Butler said. “We used our hands a little bit too much, bailing them out on a lot of their baskets. We just have to get off to a better, faster start, which we know. When we pick it up, we’re really hard to match up with. The way we play defense, if we guard like that for 40 straight minutes, we’ll be in a great position to win.”
Venezuela’s John Cox, who is Kobe Bryant’s first cousin, had a team-high 19 points.