- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Argentina pulled off a victory that until recently seemed nearly impossible, beating the United States 87-80 Wednesday night in the World Championships.

It was the first loss for a U.S. team in 59 games since the Americans began sending NBA players to international tournaments in 1992. The defeat did not knock the U.S. team out of the tournament, but gave them a lower seed for the medal round where the nations could meet again.

"We'll be back to win the gold," U.S. guard Baron Davis said.

Argentina's victory was shocking enough, but what made it even more incredible was the manner in which it accomplished it. The United States never led, trailed by as many as 20 and couldn't mount an adequate comeback down the stretch.

The Argentines leaped and hugged each other as the final buzzer sounded, while the American players stuck around and congratulated them. The Argentines then formed a tight huddle for several seconds before emerging with their hands raised to salute a small but vocal contingent of their fans in the lower seats at Conseco Fieldhouse.

This U.S. team had said it wanted to keep the unbeaten streak intact, but it also knew that the competition from around the world is getting better. Like the U.S. team, Argentina won its first five games in the World Championships to set up a meeting of the only two nations with unblemished records.

Now, there's only one team with a perfect record.

It's Argentina.

"They were a lot better than we thought." Davis said. "They were just beating us every which way."

U.S. teams had two close calls in the past two years, defeating Lithuania by just two points in the 2000 Olympics and needing overtime to beat Brazil in the 2001 Goodwill Games.

Many of the best American players declined to participate in this tournament, and this version of Team USA looked quite vulnerable over the past week especially against nations that now have their own NBA players.

"We are human beings and we dream. To say we were going to beat them, I did not know. I knew we had one of the best chances," Argentina guard Pepe Sanchez said. "We came to play, we came to compete. As the game unfolded, we said, 'Wow, we could really do this.'"

The first sign that emotions were high came less than four minutes into the game, when Paul Pierce was knocked down by Hugo Sconochini and then stuck his leg out in a deliberate attempt to trip him.

Pierce continued to go after Sconochini and was whistled for two holding fouls in the span of one second. That deprived the U.S. team of its most consistent offensive player, and the Americans did not make a field goal for the next five minutes.

In other games, Dirk Nowitzki and Marko Pesic each scored 17 points to lead Germany (4-2) over Russia 103-85 and to its first quarterfinal berth in the World Championships.

Phil Jones scored 33 points and New Zealand (3-3) rallied from a 24-point deficit to beat China 94-88. Yao Ming scored 27 points for China (1-5).


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