US tops Cuba, ends 1st Basketball World Cup qualifying round
HAVANA (AP) The first round is over. The U.S. is halfway to the Basketball World Cup.
The Americans wrapped up the first stage of the new qualifying format Sunday by beating Cuba 93-62, bouncing back from a loss in Mexico on Thursday to finish alone atop their group at 5-1.
Using G League players instead of the NBA stars they’ve been relying on to dominate for more than a decade, the Americans lost a game at the national team level for the first time since 2006 and were pushed a couple other times in the new qualifying format in which teams play home-and-away games against regional rivals.
They expect things to be just as difficult in the second round, which begins in September.
”We have really good players that are playing right now. We just don’t know who is going to be available,” coach Jeff Van Gundy said. ”But the point is we have to play better because the competition does get better.”
Reggie Hearn and Xavier Munford each scored 16 points for the Americans in their first game in Havana since 1991, when they earned a bronze medal in the Pan Am Games with a team that included Duke stars Christian Laettner and Grant Hill.
NBA players were introduced in the Olympics the next year and the Americans have almost always been able to count on a talent advantage since. But they shuttled in players from the G League for all three windows of games in the first round, and had two tough victories over Puerto Rico before the loss in Mexico City.
”We had lots of different guys participate and so the weakness is that we had a constant turnover of players,” Van Gundy said. ”But our strength is our defense and our 3-point shooting.”
Cuba led 28-24 after the first quarter Sunday before the U.S. quickly seized control with a 19-1 run to start the second.
The Americans plan to continue using G League players in the second round, when they move into a group that will feature Argentina, Uruguay and Panama, along with Puerto Rico and Mexico. The first-round record carries over, and the Americans will have to finish in the top three of that group or be the best fourth-place finisher from the Americas to qualify for the 2019 World Cup in China.
That tournament will serve as a qualifier for the 2020 Olympics.