By Brian Mahoney
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BILBAO, Spain _ They were expected to be in Barcelona. They hope to finish their trip in Madrid.
First, they had to take care of Bilbao.
The Americans wrapped up the No. 1 seed in their group Wednesday, improving to 4-0 at the Basketball World Cup with a 106-71 victory over the Dominican Republic.
Kenneth Faried, whose shooting percentage dropped after he missed three shots, scored 16 points for the U.S. DeMarcus Cousins came off the bench and added 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting.
The Americans will finish Group C play in Bilbao on Thursday against Ukraine _ when U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski will coach against longtime friend and former NBA coach Mike Fratello _ before playing their round of 16 game Saturday night in Barcelona against the fourth-place team from Group D, which is still to be determined.
A few wins there and they would play for gold in Madrid, but nobody was looking past step one.
“Obviously we have to take care of here. Nothing’s given,” forward Rudy Gay said. “We’ve worked hard, we’ve been tested and we’ve overcome that, and also got some pretty big wins.”
The Americans surpassed 100 points for the second time in the tournament _ and they were “held” to 98 points in their other two games. Even after having to overcome a halftime deficit in one game, they came in averaging a tournament-best 103.3 points and were winning by 35.7 per game.
All 12 players scored, and the ones who weren’t in the game were up cheering when back-of-the-bench centres Mason Plumlee and Andre Drummond hooked up on an alley-oop in the final minutes.
“I believe everybody felt pretty good how they played tonight,” Cousins said. “That’s what we’re going to need to continue this path.”
The Americans led by only three points after one quarter but had no trouble extending that as the game went on, as the Dominicans’ willingness to push the pace simply played into the Americans’ hands.
Faried made 8 of 11 shots, a 73-per cent clip that actually lowered his percentage for the tournament to 78.4 per cent after the Denver forward came into the game hitting 81 per cent.
Victor Liz scored 15 points for the Dominican Republic (2-2), which will face Turkey on Thursday, still in position to advance.
The Dominicans played without Houston Rockets forward Francisco Garcia, who entered the day’s play tied for fourth in the tournament with 21 points per game. He appeared to turn an ankle late in the Dominicans’ victory over Finland on Tuesday, and though he finished the game, was walking gingerly Wednesday as he went to the bench after his teammates had come out to warm up.
“They were short-handed. We knew that,” Krzyzewski said. “I thought we did a good job tonight.”
The Americans ended up winning nearly as easily as their 105-62 exhibition victory on Aug. 20 in New York, though the Dominicans hung with them a little longer than that night.
The U.S. lead was just 25-22 as the Dominicans attacked fearlessly but didn’t have any answer for the Americans’ bigs. Faried had three straight baskets, a couple of them powerful dunks, and Anthony Davis knocked down a jumper to turn a seven-point lead into a 44-29 cushion.
Gay got the final four points of the half, making a pair of free throws after he was clobbered intentionally on a breakaway by Edward Santana, then banking in a jumper that make it 56-41.
A 25-point third quarter was followed by 25 more in the fourth, capped by a series of dunks down the stretch. DeMar DeRozan finished with 11 points, and Davis and James Harden each had 10 as the U.S. shot 56 per cent.
Cousins said the Americans were a little sluggish early and still have to start their games better, but nobody was complaining about the finish.
“We felt we were going to win and how you play overall, I thought everyone left the court feeling good about how they played,” Krzyzewski said.
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