In an era when many pros are too busy, too stressed or too locked-out to represent the United States, the Goodwill Games have found some red, white and blue stars.

After blowing a 19-point lead and losing to start the Goodwill basketball tournament, the young U.S. squad has found its stride in three straight victories that have carried it to tonight's gold-medal game.Dallas Mavericks assistant Donnie Nelson, helping to coach the Lithuanian team that lost to the Americans 89-76 on Thursday night, saw the pride in their eyes at Madison Square Garden.

"These guys are playing for the highest calling you can play for - your country," Nelson said. "That's true whether it's the Olympics or the Goodwill Games. They are making their country proud on the largest basketball stage in the world."

When Pete Sampras turned down the Davis Cup, Jim Courier stepped up. When the NBA stars decided to boycott the World Championships because of the NBA lockout, more players volunteered to take their place.

Collegians are considered by many to be too inexperienced to match up against veteran international opponents, and they might lose to a veteran Australian team tonight. But they have acquitted themselves well.

"The best basketball talent obviously has gone on to the NBA," coach Clem Haskins said. "We could have guys like Kevin Garnett on this team, but these guys are very coachable and I wouldn't trade them for anyone else. But we have a tough task ahead against a team with three NBA-quality players."

Australia, which beat defending champion Puerto Rico 86-74, is led by Shane Heal, who was on the Minnesota Timberwolves roster two seasons ago; Chris Antsey of the Dallas Mavericks; and Andrew Gaze, a Seton Hall star in 1989 who had short NBA tryouts.

NBA stars from the United States never were scheduled to play in this tournament, even before the current labor dispute.

This young college squad started the Goodwill tournament by taking a 19-point lead over Puerto Rico, then losing by eight. Undaunted, the Americans came back to defeat Brazil and China to reach the medal round.

A 3-pointer by Wally Szczerbiak of Miami-Ohio, who led a balanced U.S. offense with 20 points, gave the Americans a 19-point lead over Lithuania with 141/2 minutes left.

Duke's Elton Brand scored 15 points, Mississippi's Keith Carter had 12, Andre Miller of Utah 11 and Jumaine Jones of Georgia 10 for the United States.

Heal led Australia with 21 points, and Tony Ronaldson had 20, including two 3-pointers during a 14-0 burst at the start of the second half that extended a three-point lead to 58-41.

Gaze, who led Seton Hall to the NCAA championship game in 1989, scored 15 points, and Antsey had 14.

Elsewhere in the games, Trent Wells of Keizer, Ore., thought he had a silver medal in the men's parallel bars, but wound up with no medal at all.

Judges twice changed scores after reviewing routines and dropped Wells from a tie for second to fourth, behind Xu Huang of China, Ivan Ivankov of Belarus and Aleksei Bondarenko of Russia.

Ivankov then won the high bar, holding off Russia's Alexei Nemov. It was the fourth medal for Ivankov, including the all-around gold. Bondarenko finished with three silvers and two bronze.

In rhythmic gymnastics, Alina Kabayeva of Russia won the all-around gold, leading each of the four disciplines.

Diving began, with world champion Irina Lashko of Russia winning the 1-meter springboard over China's Guo Jingjing. The Chinese pair of Tian Liang and Sun Shuwei won the men's synchronized platform gold, posting the day's only perfect scores.

Beach volleyball's grand old man, 41-year-old Sinjin Smith, injured his left calf as he and U.S. teammate Ricci Luyties lost 15-5 to Canada's John Child and Mark Heese.