SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- In a game that went down to the wire, the USA Basketball Men's U18 National Team (5-0) fought back to defeat Brazil (4-1) 81-78 and claim the FIBA Americas U18 Championship gold medal Wednesday at Bill Greehey Arena in San Antonio, Texas. Earlier in the night Canada (3-2) defeated Argentina (2-3) 86-83 in overtime to earn the bronze medal, Canada's second bronze at the U18s.
Argentina, Brazil, Canada and the United States qualified for the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship, which will be held in Latvia.
This marked the fifth (1990, 1994, 1998, 2006, 2010) U18 gold medal for the USA, the last coming in 2006. Argentina beat USA in 2008, in the tournament held in Formosa, Argentina. With the win, the U.S. upped its overall record to 38-2 at this event, and has also won five gold medals, one silver medal (2008) and one bronze medal (2002) at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship. It also marked the best finish for Brazil, which has captured three bronze medals at the U18 tournament.
"I was really proud of our guys with how we dealt with adversity," said USA and University of Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel. "It's the first time we have experienced it here and it knocked us back a little bit early. I thought we did a good job of getting off to a good start in the second half. Give them credit, that Brazil team, they have been together and fought and they made plays. At one point, we were down eight and we could have put our heads down but these guys hung together. They showed some toughness, they showed some grit and we started to get some stops on the defensive end and some guys made some great plays offensively."
Brazil led 63-58 going into the fourth period. The Americans went on a 16-5 scoring run and led 76-72 with 3:55 remaining. But Brazil was not finished, as Felipe Taddei hit a 3-pointer, as the team closed to 76-75. The USA's Pat Young (Providence School / Jacksonville, Fla.) hit two free throws at 2:51, and the American squad led 78-75. With a tick over 40 seconds on the clock, Brazil's Raul Neto tied the score at 78-all with a 3-point bucket. The finale came with 25 seconds to go, as Quincy Miller (Quality Education Academy / Winston-Salem, N.C.) fired up a 3-pointer, which turned out to be the game-winner.
"Well, coach just told me to shoot it, even though my last one was an air ball," said Miller. "Coach told me to shoot it, so I shot it. I had faith in myself and I made it."
Brazil moved the ball down the court and Neto's layup was off the mark. Lucas Nogueira tipped the ball out to Felipe Taddei, but his three was also off. After a scramble for the ball, it went out of bounds on the side with 4.1 seconds to go. Brazil inbounded, Bruno Irigoyen got off a 3-point attempt, another miss, and the USA team got the rebound and celebrated the gold medal.
The U.S. started the game like its previous four and at the 5:15 mark, led 15-2. However, Brazil came alive and closed the quarter on a 13-7 run to close to 22-15 at the first break.
Brazil put on a full court press for most of the first half, which disrupted the USA's offense, and the South Americans led 35-34 going into intermission after outscoring USA 14-2 in the final five minutes.
The third quarter was a see-saw battle that ended with Brazil on top 63-58. Brazil then scored the first two buckets of the final stanza to take its largest lead of the night, 67-58, with 9:01 to play.
"One of the things that happened was we got off to such a big lead I think, our guys thought that this would be a little bit easier," said Capel. "Just like the last games, then Brazil threw a full-court press on us, and we did not adjust to it. It knocked us back a little bit. They played zone and it did not allow us to get into our offense. We talked about getting back to defending and holding them to one shot and blocking out, which would allow us to get out into transition and get some easy baskets."
iHoops First Team member Kyrie Irving (St. Patrick's H.S. / Elizabeth, N.J.) led USA with 21 points. Irving shot 8-of-17 from the field and pulled in 10 rebounds, while accounting for five assists. Austin Rivers (Winter Park H.S. / Winter Park, Fla.) contributed 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Vander Blue (James Madison Memorial H.S. / Madison, Wis.), who is headed to Marquette, added 13 points. Miller scored 11 points and grabbed a team-best 12 rebounds, while Jereme Richmond (Waukegan H.S. / Waukegan, Ill.) contributed nine points.