LAS VEGAS — A special pre-game surprise awaited the U.S. World Cup qualifying squad on Thursday night, in the form of a pep talk from Mike Krzyzewski.
Coach K’s words worked again for the Americans.
John Jenkins scored 22 points on 8-for-9 shooting – including a 6-of-7 3-point effort – and the United States had few problems en route to a 105-71 victory over Uruguay in World Cup. Americas region qualifier, with Krzyzewski sitting pitchside to enjoy the show.
“We knew when he came to talk to us that we had to put on a good performance and play hard,” Jenkins said.
Krzyzewski, the now retired Duke coach, led the United States to three consecutive Olympic gold medals in 2008, 2012 and 2016. His message was simple, revolving around how to play with the United States on a jersey means playing with pride is a must.
Americans listened. They beat Uruguay 33-13 in the second quarter, turning the game into a runaway, and it stayed that way.
“Coach K spoke to the team five minutes before I came in to talk pre-game,” USA coach Jim Boylen said. “How was I supposed to follow this? … It was a really cool honor, a big moment for all of us.”
The victory, combined with Puerto Rico’s 75-72 victory over Brazil (5-2) in another qualifying game on Thursday, put the Americans alone at the top of their qualifying group.
Langston Galloway added 18 points as the Americans are likely just two wins away from qualifying for next year’s World Cup.
USA (6-1 in qualifying) went 3 on four straight possessions in this second-quarter flurry and never looked back. DaQuan Jeffries scored 16 points, Dewan Hernandez added 12 and Robert Woodard II scored 11 for the Americans, who were 15 for 29 from 3-point range.
David Stockton, whose father John Stockton – the Basketball Hall of Famer – was also present, added nine assists in 17 minutes for the United States.
Esteban Batista and Luciano Perodi each had 14 for Uruguay (4-3), who remain firmly in contention for a World Cup spot. Uruguay have the same record as Puerto Rico and Mexico, and Colombia (3-4) gave themselves new life by coming back 20 points to stun Mexico in overtime, 93-89.
USA opened the day tied with Brazil in the Group F standings; there are two pools of six teams in the Americas region, and the top three from each pool – along with the best fourth-placed team – will go on to the World Cup.
Americans can’t pack their bags for the World Cup just yet. But they can probably start thinking about what to bring.
Besides the United States and Brazil, Group F also includes Puerto Rico, Mexico, Uruguay and Colombia. The other group in the Americas region, Group E, includes Canada (7-0), Venezuela (6-1), Argentina (5-2), Dominican Republic (5-2), Bahamas (2-5) and Panama (2-5).
Uruguay led 4-0 after 20 seconds, and that was the only hurrah for the visitors from South America. The rest of the night was all-American, who earned their easiest victory to date from this qualifying tournament.
“Tonight every guy we played as hard as he could play,” Boylen said.
Uruguay: Santiago Vescovi finished with 10 points. He was an All-SEC player at Tennessee last season and started 77 of his 81 games with the Volunteers in three years there. … Batista, who turns 39 next week, was the only player on the Uruguayan team with regular-season NBA experience. He played 70 games for Atlanta between 2005 and 2007. …Kiril Waschmann may be a household name to some; he was born in Spain, raised in New York and played his four years of college basketball at Iona.
United States: The Americans have now used 38 players in their seven World Cup qualifying games. … Galloway has hit double digits in each of his last four World Cup qualifying appearances, the longest such streak among those currently on the U.S. roster. … The fifth qualifying window will take place in November, with the Americans set to face Brazil on November 11 and Colombia on November 14. The FIBA schedule indicates that the United States will be the home team for these matches, but no venue has been announced.
Uruguay: Host Puerto Rico on Monday.
United States: visits Colombia on Monday.