This semifinal was much anticipated because the U.S. and Spain competed in the gold medal game in Rio 2016, and Spain was undefeated in the preliminary round of Tokyo 2020.
The first quarter was tight at 15-14 favoring the Americans. Spain was heavily reliant on their star, Alejandro Beltran Zarzuela, who scored eight of Spain’s points primarily from inside the paint. The opening quarter provided a glimmer of what was to come with a steady offense paced by Brian Bell, and four of five U.S. starters contributing to the scoring.
U.S. Head Coach, Ron Lykins, said his team’s play was about trusting their ability.
“We got good looks, I thought we were more aggressive on the offensive end, which helped the shooting. Instead of thinking, we just played and trusted ourselves,” he said.
Coach Lykins went to his bench slightly earlier than usual in the first quarter to make some adjustments on the defensive end of the ball. After that substitution, Steve Serio and Trevon Jenifer each secured a steal before the quarter expired. That theme continued into the second quarter, where the USA forced five Spain turnovers in the first five minutes.
“It started with our defense. Kind of got them on their heels, which made it tough for them defensively,” said Lykins.
USA also had its best offensive quarter in the second with a blend of up-tempo offense capitalized from steals and Spain misses. At under six minutes in the half, a series of plays ensued illustrating the oppressive waves of attack the Americans can impose on its opposition: Matt Scott led Jake Williams on a breakaway layup, Scott stole the ball and executed a give and go with Jake Williams followed by a basket, full court pressure defense forcing an eight second backcourt violation, and Williams hit a three-pointer.
A major influence in this game was Scott’s performance. Although always an anchor on the defense with the ability to change the complexion of a game, he had yet to have a breakout game. This semifinal game, his talent and skill were on display on both ends as he was five for 11 from the field and two for four on three-pointers.
Scott was happy with his performance.
“There’s guys across the board that can give it night in and night out. I had a good game today and I’m really happy about that going into the gold medal game,” he said.
In total, USA outscored Spain in the second quarter 24-8 and took a 39-22 lead into the half. That is exactly what Team USA needed, because throughout this tournament they had not yet fully clicked.
USA Co-Captain, Steve Serio, said the game was an improvement from their previous games.
“One of things we talked about before the game is that we’ve played like a gold medal team in spurts, but we haven’t been able to put it all together. Today, we took a step closer in doing that,” he Serio.
Brian Bell was the lead scorer with 20 points. He scored 10 in the third quarter with eight in the last five minutes. Bell has come up big for USA in multiple tight games in this competition and continues to be a steady force for his squad.
“Anyone of us can go off. We just have a lot of talent on our team. Teams see that, so they jump the shooters, and they give me opportunities to show what I can do,” said Bell.
USA is returning to the gold medal game after capturing gold in Rio 2016. Throughout this quadrennial plus one, it is fair to say that this program has had a target on its back. Every team sees playing Team USA as their gold medal opportunity. The athletes and staff of this time, like so many, have had ups and downs over the last 18 months. Having an opportunity to repeat gold is special and rare.
Scott, five-time Paralympian, talked about his journey to get to this point.
“My guys have had my back this entire time. This entire USA basketball family has had my back this entire time. I want to do everything that I can to bring home that gold medal,” he said. “Whoever we have in the locker room – and everybody back at home, we just want to make them proud. Whether that’s our personal journey or our journey as a team.”
USA will rely on Serio’s leadership and talent, and the depth of their roster in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Gold Medal game this Sunday against Japan. Japan has played inspired basketball as the host nation, and USA’s experience will be vital to quell those emotions.
Serio is honored to be leading Team USA into the Tokyo 2020 gold medal match.
“It’s been the greatest honor of my career to say that I can lead a Team USA,” he said.
Tip off for the gold medal game is 12:30pm Japan Standard Time at the Ariake Arena.