U.S. ends losing streak at World Championship

INDIANAPOLIS — For the first time in three days, the U.S. team did not lose.

Paul Pierce and Jermaine O'Neal scored 15 points apiece as the United States defeated Puerto Rico 84-74 last night in a classification-round game at the FIBA World Basketball Championship.

The U.S. team will play Spain for fifth place tonight.

About 1,000 people were in attendance, the latest disappointing crowd in a tournament that has been marked by tiny crowds in spacious venues. In their loss to Yugoslavia on Thursday night, the American fans were drowned out by their Yugoslav counterparts.

"We thought we'd be happy to have it in Indianapolis, but last night it looked like we were playing it in Belgrade," said USA Basketball President Tom Jernstedt, who acknowledged that the event was overpriced.

Ticket prices ranged from $10 to $58 for the first round, from $12 to $66 for the second round, from $24 to $110 for the quarterfinals, $65 to $135 for the semifinals and $95 to $190 for the gold-medal game.

"We thought it would be comparable to an NBA Finals, an Olympics or an NCAA Final Four from a pricing standpoint," Jernstedt said. "If we had to do it again, we would have changed the pricing structure."

The U.S. team, already without Elton Brand (sore knee) and Shawn Marion (pulled groin), lost O'Neal to a turned ankle early in the fourth quarter.

The Americans trailed 25-19 after the first quarter, but took the lead for good on a three-pointer by Baron Davis with 6:49 left in the second quarter.

Jerome Mincy made a three-pointer with 6:24 left in the fourth quarter to cut Puerto Rico's deficit to five, 69-64, but Davis answered with a pair of threes in an 8-0 run that put the U.S. team back in control.

In other classification-round games, Russia beat Angola 77-66, Turkey defeated China 94-86 and Spain beat Brazil 105-89.

Today's semifinal matchups are Yugoslavia against New Zealand and Germany against Argentina. The gold medal game is tomorrow.

Yesterday was a day of soul-searching for the American basketball community. Losses to Argentina and Yugoslavia continued to sting.

"The only thing you can do now is apologize for not coming in and representing the game of basketball the way that you're supposed to," Antonio Davis said. "There are no excuses, there's no reason why we shouldn't have gotten it done."

Before the losses, U.S. teams were 58-0 when using NBA players in international tournaments. The players and coaches on this team will carry the stigma of being the first to lose.

The United States sent some very good players to this tournament, but it did not send its best. Jason Kidd and Ray Allen withdrew from the team, citing nagging injuries, and many others declined invitations to play. Among them were Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.

"Hopefully this will be a call for these guys to come out and represent our country," Pierce said.


• A trial date of Feb. 18 was set for former NBA All-Star Jayson Williams, who is accused of fatally shooting limousine driver Costas Christofi at Williams' mansion Feb. 14 and then trying to cover it up.

• The San Antonio Spurs hired P.J. Carlesimo, a former NBA coach turned broadcaster, as an assistant coach.

Carlesimo last coached in the NBA in 1999, when he was fired by Golden State after a 6-21 start. Shortly after he was hired by the Warriors in June 1997, Latrell Sprewell choked him during a practice and was suspended for 68 games.

• The Milwaukee Bucks signed veteran guard Kevin Ollie.