HAMBURG, GERMANY- After losing to Australia in the gold medal game in the 2014, the U.S. exacted their revenge one round sooner.
The U.S. advanced to its second straight IWBF World Championships gold-medal game after an 84-59 victory Friday. Jake Williams of Milwaukee, Wisconsin led the U.S. in scoring with 29 points, scoring early and often alongside team captain Steve Serio of Westbury, New York. Serio finished with 17 points, five rebound and a game-high seven assists. Despite the final score, the game was another intense matchup between the teams that met in the finals and semifinals of the last two world championships.
“It was the Paralympic Champions versus the World Champions,” Serio said “We knew that the Aussies have a great mix of veteran leadership with really talented, young, up-and-coming guys. We knew it was going to be a dogfight for 40 minutes, and that’s kinda what we tried to make it.”
Both teams came out with a physical, high-tempo pace in a first quarter that saw five lead changes and four ties. Team USA got off to a slow start, finding themselves down 6-0 after a couple of unforced turnovers. They scored their first basket on a speedy Serio give-and-go with Brian Bell of Birmingham, Alabama and the offense got rolling from there. Australian Shaun Norris got to the paint at will in the period, where he scored nine of his team-high 14 points.
U.S. men’s head coach Ron Lykins of Columbia, Missouri turned to his stingy defensive lineup earlier than usual, featuring Aaron Gouge of Wake Forest, North Carolina, Matt Scott of Detroit Michigan, and Trevon Jenifer of Huntingtown, Maryland. With that crew in, the U.S. went on a 10-2 run between the first and second quarter. This gave the U.S. a ten-point lead at 27-17 that kept Australia at arm’s distance for the rest of the game.
“[The Australians] are so hard to play against,” said Lykins. “They’ve got a couple lineups that they can run, and each one can give us problems if we didn’t execute our defense. I felt our guys were really ready.”
From halftime onward, the game became death-by-a-thousand-cuts for the Australians. Though they cut the deficit to as low as eight points in the third quarter, Team USA’s depth nullified any comeback effort. Jorge Sanchez of Oakland, California packed a punch off the bench, scoring six straight points for the U.S in the quarter and sparking a 12-4 run to end the period.
The speed, chair skills, and quickness of Team USA put the game away in the fourth. Their lead stretched to as big as 27 at one point. These blowouts have become the norm for a U.S. team that’s gotten better with each passing game.
“The more we’re playing, the better our awareness is,” Lykins said. “Guys are recognizing situations and then they can anticipate. So mentally, were quicker right now. If you’re mentally quick it can make up for some shortcomings you have.”
Defense has defined Team USA all tournament. Friday was different as they pilfered the ball from the Aussies nine times and scored 19 points off of 15 turnovers.
Team USA’s men improve to 6-0 in the 2018 IWBF World Championships. The U.S. will play either Great Britain or Iran in the finals on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. Eastern.
Regardless of the opponent and the stakes, Matt Scott says Team USA’s goal transcends the moment.
“We came here to do one thing,” Scott said. “That’s to play our brand of basketball, and show that we can beat anyone when we play USA Basketball’s best game.”
NWBA Hall of Famer Ron Lykins of Columbia, Missouri is the head coach. His assistants are Robb Taylor of Auburn, Alabama, and John Sikora of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Scott Meyer of Columbia, Missouri, serves as the Team Leader, with Mary Vacala of Savannah, Georgia, filling the athletic trainer position. Assisting Valaca at the trainer position is Jeremy Johnson of Dothan, Alabama.
The U.S. men have returned home with a medal from every World Championships since 1975, accumulating six gold medals and four silver medals. USA has played for the gold medal in ten of the last 11 IWBF World Championships, most recently winning silver in 2014.
2018 IWBF World Championships
August 16 - 26, 2018
2018 IWBF World Championships Results
USA def. Poland, 82-51 (1-0)
USA def. Great Britain, 66-59 (2-0)
USA def. South Korea, 75-49 (3-0)
USA def. Morocco, 82-31 (4-0)
USA def. Argentina, 82-31 (5-0)
USA def. Australia, 84-59 (6-0)
U.S. Men’s Schedule for 2018 IWBF World Championships
8/18 vs Poland, 3:30 AM (Eastern/New York)
8/19 vs Great Britain, 2:15 PM
8/20 vs South Korea, 8:00 AM
8/21 Crossover, vs Morocco, 2:00 AM
8/22 Quarterfinals, vs Argentina, 6:00 AM
8/24 Semifinals, vs Australia, 7:30 AM
8/26 Finals, vs Great Britain/Iran, 9:30 AM
The U.S. men enter the semifinals of the IWBF Championships against Australia today at 7:30 AM, EST. Stay here to watch the game, get live stats and post-game recaps!