Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pan-Am Semis: Mexico 71, USA 55

If the U.S. men's basketball team is going to bring a medal home from these Pan-Am Games, it's going to be bronze. Team USA was thoroughly outclassed by host Mexico on Saturday afternoon in Guadalajara.

I'm not going to stretch to find something positive to say about the Americans' performance. The high point was the first quarter, when the U.S. pushed the tempo, something they had waited to do until the second half in come-from-behind wins over the Dominican Republic and Brazil earlier in the week. (The U.S. apparently lost to Uruguay on Friday night in the final round of pool play, a meaningless game I didn't watch and couldn't find much information on.) Leading 15-11 after one quarter, it went downhill quickly for the U.S., which trailed by five at halftime.

This game was still entertaining to watch, however, mainly because of Mexico's guards.

The first one to catch my eye was Peter David Meza, who turned one second-quarter stretch into a game of one-on-one with Justin Dentmon and thoroughly bested him. Meza was able to break down his defender and finish at the rim. Dentmon's attempts to retaliate failed -- ending, more often than not, with him pounding the ball, unable to get into the lane, and then firing up an off-balance jumper.

I most enjoyed watching Paul Michael Stoll, who the box score claims only had four assists. (I would have sworn he had twice that number.) Stoll picked apart the America defense both off the dribble and with the pass, playing with just the amount of flair I like from a point guard. On my favorite assist of the game, he broke down his defender and got into the lane, then through a soft, one-handed lob pass off the dribble from close range. He also drilled two of his six three-point attempts.

Meza and Stoll, by the way, were Mexico's backup guards. Jovan Harris, another reserve guard, actually led all scorers with 15 points, but his performance didn't make the impression that Meza's and Stoll's did. Mexico's starting guards, Omar Quintero and former Western Kentucky star Orlando Mendez, were relatively quiet. It's worth noting, too, that the most recognizable perimeter player for Mexico -- former Stanford point guard Chris Hernandez -- didn't play for some reason.

The other standout for Mexico was Lorenzo Real, who American college basketball fans may recognize as Lorenzo Mata or Lorenzo Mata-Real from his days at UCLA. After scoring the game's first basket on a backdoor alley-oop, Real picked up two quick fouls and was quiet for the rest of the first half. He came back strong in the second half, though, particularly in the fourth quarter when he registered three of his four blocked shots, including a spectacular rejection of a Jerome Dyson drive that I hope someone posts video of somewhere. Real was also on the receiving end of two momentum-building lob passes in the second half, including the one from Stoll described above.

Speaking of momentum, the atmosphere in this one was pretty great. Mexico are the host nation for these Games, and their fans were out in full force. Mexico-USA is a fierce soccer rivalry, and while the conditions weren't anything like what the U.S. faces when it goes to Mexico City for World Cup qualifying, it was definitely a hostile environment for the Americans.

The feed of these games that I've been watching has some production features like multiple cameras and instant replays, but there are no announcers and no commercial breaks. Thus, during timeouts, the broadcast stays with the crowd. At an NBA game, the crowd is dead silent during breaks in the action. (And, for that matter, during the action a lot of the time.) A typical college game will have a bit more dead-ball noise, but nothing compared to the start-to-finish party that is an international sporting event featuring Mexico (or any team from Central or South America, really). I don't know if there was a live mariachi band in the arena, or if the music was coming over the PA system, but it was certainly a fiesta in there.

Mexico gets the winner of Puerto Rico versus the Dominican Republic in the gold-medal game. The U.S. gets the loser.

UPDATE (8:49 p.m. PT): Puerto Rico 85, Dominican Republic 77 in the second semifinal, so it's PR-Mexico in the gold-medal game and DR-USA in the bronze. Both games are rematches of the first game of pool play; Puerto Rico and the U.S. having won these matchups on Wednesday. There really is a live band in the arena, by the way. Also, at the end of PR-DR, players from both teams met at midcourt for some sort of mosh pit/dance circle that words cannot begin to describe. Someone find video of this.

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