By Chris Kaftan
SOFIA, Bulgaria – A sloppy start today and questionable calls by referees gave Australia a brief lead against the United States before the Americans went on a 20-0 run and seized control of the game by playing dominant defense, shutting down the Aussies to win, 94-35, on Sunday.
“We played uncharacteristically for ourselves, and that led us to fumble around for a couple of minutes,” head coach Keith Westhoelter said.
In the first half alone, American players were called for 11 traveling violations, with most of the calls coming from a single, trigger-happy referee.
The players got increasingly frustrated with the referee and had to support each other to prevent emotions from spilling out onto the floor.
When the U.S. was down 6-7, Westhoelter called a timeout and told the team to focus on the game plan and their defense. After the timeout, the U.S. went on a scoring run and allowed Australia just four more points in the rest of the half.
“There’s no doubt in my mind we started off rusty,” center Orion Palmer said. “After that time out, we ‘broke out’ and just played the way we’re accustomed to playing, and we played good after that.”
Palmer had 12 points, one block, and two rebounds.
Five Americans scored in the double digits, led by Danny Kelly with 14 points and 11 boards. Raymond Nelson had 10 points, including a rim-shaking, alley-oop dunk with 22 seconds left in the first half.
“We were overconfident at the beginning of the game, then we changed our approach and that helped,” Nelson said. “We have to expect that each team is good, and that’s not how we started against Australia. We cleaned up our play, and that helped.”
USA is now 3-0 in pool play and heads into a rest day Monday before facing Russia, who is also undefeated in pool play.
“The Russians are very good, and we expect this to be a crucial game for us,” Westhoelter said.
“In order for us to be prepared, we need to be mentally set and run our plays smoother,” Palmer added. “Our plays are still not clicking, but I’m sure they will be by Tuesday.”
The game against Russia is at 2 p.m. (7 a.m. Eastern Time) Tuesday, July 30, at Universiada Hall.