The Day After: USA survives Serbia, 66-65
In a game that had more twists and turns than a Stephen King novel, the United States men's basketball team outlasted Serbia in a 66-65 thriller on Tuesday at DongKang College Gymnasium.
The game featured 12 lead changes and 14 ties, but the Jayhawks finished as the last unbeaten team in Pool D, punching their ticket to the World University Games quarterfinals.
Kansas University junior guard Wayne Selden provided the heroics, swishing a game-tying three-pointer and sinking the game-winning free throw in the final minute. He scored 13 of his game-high 21 points in the final quarter.
Kansas senior forward Hunter Mickelson was Selden's sidekick in the fourth quarter, scoring six points and assisting on Selden's game-tying shot.
The Jayhawks didn't play their best, but they received their toughest test against Serbia. In the last six minutes, they battled back from a seven-point deficit, lost a five-point lead, and still found a way to win.
Mickelson had 14 points and seven rebounds, KU point guard Frank Mason III finished with 12 points, six rebounds and four assists, and senior forward Perry Ellis added seven points and nine rebounds.
In a battle of the last two unbeaten teams in Pool D, the Jayhawks were the last ones standing. The offense has been up and down, and it was no different on Wednesday. Against Serbia's zone, USA struggled to find ways to score. But in the fourth quarter, the Jayhawks made enough plays to find a way to win. On the other side of the court, it's impressive to see how well the Jayhawks are defending the ball. For nearly the entire tournament, the Jayhawks have defended at an extremely high level.
Three reasons to smile
1 – KU junior Wayne Selden Jr. is in full takeover mode. Selden put together a nice string of games in February last year, but this is another level. He's attacking the rim with force. He's shooting the ball well. He's playing strong defense on the perimeter. And he's doing it all when he's logging 38 minutes a game.
He's the leading scorer in the World University Games, and it's not really that close. He's shooting 67 percent inside of the 3-point line (21-of-31). The only thing he hasn't done is draw up a few plays.
If he can carry this momentum into next season, look out.
"Wayne’s probably had the best tournament here of anybody playing in the tournament so far," Kansas coach Bill Self said after Selden had 21 points and seven rebounds vs. Serbia. "He stepped up and made a huge shot. After we had the game and gave it away, then he came back and won it for us.”
2 – Mickelson has proven he can handle more minutes, and could be a candidate to pick up minutes at the five this winter. Going up against some big and physical Serbian forwards, Mickelson shined in crunch time. He led all of the USA forwards in minutes, scoring 14 points with seven boards. During this tournament, he's just played to his strengths. He goes after rebounds hard. He affects shots on the defensive end, and he runs well after setting high ball screens.
"At this point in time, even though it’s early, you can certainly see that you can have confidence to play him at the five this year," Self said.
3 – The Jayhawks were in a tough pool, and are still undefeated. Turkey, Brazil and Serbia aren't pushovers. At times, all three of those teams looked better than the Jayhawks. But the Jayhawks kept finding ways to win. This tournament means something to the players. They fought for a gritty victory against Serbia. They even felt a little disrespected before the contest.
“There was chatter that we had no chance,” Selden said. “We were baffled because we’re 3-0, just like them. We really wanted to go out and compete against these guys. That’s a really tough team. They’re grown men. We’re still getting there, you know. We’re still trying to get to their level of maturity. We really got stops down the stretch and made big buckets down the stretch.
"I think we have a chip on our shoulder in every game that we play in now because USA hasn’t done well in these in the past. We really want to do well."
Three reasons to sigh
1 – The Jayhawks struggled mightily against Serbia's zone defense. For the middle two quarters, there was nothing USA could do right against Serbia's zone. The Jayhawks shot a combined 10-for-37 from the field (27 percent). USA's forwards (Perry Ellis, 2-for-11; Landen Lucas, 0-for-3; Jamari Traylor, 1-for-3; Carlton Bragg, 1-for-3) had trouble creating space, and the guards just couldn't get shots to drop.
"It was just kind of a mixture of things," Mickelson said of the zone. "They changed things up. They had different guys, you know. We did pretty good going off there at the beginning. We had a couple of guys get to the high post, drop to the low post and get some baskets. Our up top screens are really good because it allowed our guards to get down there and dish down low. They were changing things up but like we had guys screening up top and moving the ball. I think that really helped."
2 – There were a lot of off nights for the Jayhawks. Self said it was the most tired he's seen his team on this trip. It certainly played out that way for more than a few guys. SMU senior guard Nic Moore missed his first nine shots, Ellis was 2-for-11 from the floor and Mason scored 12 points, but wasn't as effective as he usually is.
3 – The Jayhawks failed to close the game out and lost a five-point lead in the final minutes. If Selden didn't provide Wednesday's heroics, the storyline would be how the Jayhawks struggled down the stretch. Serbia scored on four straight possessions to tie the score in the last two minutes and take a three-point lead. Meanwhile the Jayhawks missed two shots and gave up a couple of offensive rebounds.
The Jayhawks will play Switzerland in their final pool play game at 10 a.m. Thursday (8 p.m. Wednesday CDT) at DongKang College Gymnasium. USA has already secured top seed in Pool D, while Switzerland earned its first win of the tournament with a 57-48 victory over Chile on Wednesday.
The game will be broadcast by ESPNU and we will have a live blog, just like any regular season game, right here on KUsports.com.