BEIJING On a United States men's basketball team loaded with high-octane, high-wire hoops artists who are jamming and juking their way around all comers at the Beijing Olympics, it may seem strange to say that one of the smallest American backup players hitting one of the team's dozen 3-pointers provided the shot of the game in a 116-85 quarterfinal rout of Australia.
But that's just what Deron Williams did Wednesday night at the Olympic Basketball Gymnasium, helping to advance the undefeated Americans to Friday's semifinals to face Argentina.
And if the USA-Argentina semifinal pairing sounds familiar well, remember it was Argentina that downed the United States in the 2004 Athens Games' semifinals en route to a gold medal, with the Americans settling for the bronze.
Against Australia, Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 25 points as one of six U.S. players to score in double figures. He was joined by LeBron James (16), Carmelo Anthony (15) and Williams and Chris Bosh, who each
finished with 10 points.
Besides his point production, Williams added three rebounds, three assists and a steal. His U.S. and Utah Jazz teammate, Carlos Boozer, contributed four points and two boards.
After leading just 25-24 after the first period, the United States jumped out to double-digit margins in the second quarter, only to have the Aussies cut into their deficit just before intermission.
Williams took an outlet pass from Bosh with time running out, advanced the ball and hit the three to give the United States a 55-43 halftime lead. From there, Australia never threatened again.
"D-Will hits the shot at the end of the half, and we took the momentum from there and we ran away with it," Boozer said.
"It was a little momentum-builder for us," admitted Williams, saying he was unsure if he should try to drive or pull up for a shot until he keyed off his defender.
"He kept backing up, and I just rose for the 3," he said, adding that he prefers shooting rather than slicing and dicing. "Usually a jump shot is better it's what you practice more of. If I can get my feet set, I'd rather do that any time."
Australia did most of its damage from the outside, as Patrick Mills, Glen Saville and Joe Ingles combined to hit 7 of 10 from beyond the arc, with Mills finishing with a team-high 20 points.
But adding injury to insult for the Aussies was the fact that center Andrew Bogut was hampered with two quick fouls and a first-half ankle injury that forced an early exit.
Bogut limped off the court at the end of the game, only pausing to tell reporters that he had severely rolled his left ankle as he stepped on Bryant's foot and that he was planning on having an MRI done Thursday morning.
U.S. players said there was too much offensive freestyling going on in the first half, and that the Americans reverted back to their strength stifling defense after Williams' buzzer-beating trey at the half gave them a cushion.
"We have the ability (to play) any style of basketball we can press you, we can play zone, we can switch on the pick and rolls," Boozer said. "Everything that we do comes down to defense.
"I don't mean to keep talking about defense, but that's the key to our victories defense," he said. "If we play great 'D' like we did in the second half tonight, we can play anybody."
Or pull away from anybody.
"We didn't think that this team could play with us," added Williams, stating that the U.S. managed a meager pre-Olympics exhibition victory in Shanghai over Australia because the Americans were trying a few new wrinkles and were anxious to get the real Beijing show started."So we just wanted to come out," he said, "and show them that they couldn't play with us."