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Up first for the U.S. in medal round: a 'smart' Australia team

Aug. 19, 2008

By Mark Heisler, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING -- This is the medal round?

After flattening everyone in medal play, including supposed contenders Greece (92-69) and Spain (119-92), the U.S. basketball team moves into the quarterfinals Wednesday night against Australia.

Not to ruin the ending, but the U.S. beat the Aussies by 21 points in an exhibition two weeks ago.

Counting exhibitions, the U.S. has beaten every team left by at least 20 points this summer, except Argentina and Croatia, which it didn't play.

Andrew Bogut, the 7-footer who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, sat out the exhibition against the U.S. but will play.

So much for hopeful signs for the Aussies.

Of course, U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski is eyeing the Aussies as if they're in the NBA.

"Playing Australia gave us a chance to personally touch some of those players," said Krzyzewski. "How quick [Patrick] Mills was, how really good [David] Andersen is, why he's one of the best players in Europe, how well [Chris] Anstey can still shoot. . . .

"They're a good team, over the last three games averaging over 100 points a game, 40 of those coming on threes, so they're shooting the heck out of the ball.

"They're a tough team to stop defensively."

However, the Aussies scored only 76 against the U.S. in Shanghai so you can't say they're impossible to stop.

The Aussie to watch is 5-11 Patrick Mills, a speed burner who scorched the U.S. guards, slashing to the hoop and once, after they got serious, splitting a double-team.

Here's how fast he is. Kobe Bryant, who guards the best opposing backcourt player, says he isn't taking Mills.

"Too quick," said Bryant.

Mills averaged 14.8 points last season as a St. Mary's freshman. If his shooting improves, he may not last four years.

"If I was St. Mary's, I'd be happy to have him right now, because he's a big-time player," said U.S. scout Tony Ronzone, the Detroit Piston player personnel director. "He'll be heavily scouted."

The Aussies' slim chance comes from the fact they're smart. Coach Brian Goorjian, whose father, Ed, was a famed prep coach at Crescenta Valley High and whose brother, Greg, set a CIF scoring record there, minimized turnovers and turned it into a half-court shooting contest.

The Americans prevailed, but if there's a way they can be had by anyone here, that's it.