U.S. dunkers glitter in gold-medal game

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Let there be no doubt: The United States is once again better than Argentina in basketball. Much, much better.

Turning the game into a dunking exhibition with a brilliant first half, the United States humiliated Argentina 106-73 last night in the gold-medal game at the FIBA Americas Men's Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

Incredible alley-oop dunks were followed by even better ones in the strongest overall performance by a U.S. team since the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

A much more competitive game was expected after Argentina, which defeated the United States last summer at the FIBA World Championship, performed brilliantly in its semifinal win over Canada on Saturday night to qualify for the Olympics. Argentina also competed well against the U.S. team in the second round, losing by eight points.

But with nothing at stake aside from national pride, the Americans showed themselves ready to restore a sense of normalcy to a basketball universe that changed so drastically last summer when the U.S. team lost three times at the World Championship.

Led by Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs, Tracy McGrady of the Orlando Magic, Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors, Jason Kidd of the New Jersey Nets and Ray Allen of the Sonics, the Americans brought a considerably stronger team to this tournament — a team that peaked in its finale.

At the end of one dunk-filled sequence in the second quarter, the U.S. team led 53-19.

The Americans opened the second half by scoring their first three baskets on dunks — two of them by Duncan in his most dominant performance of the tournament. He finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds.

Allen scored 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting from the field. Sonics rookie Nick Collison added two points on 1-for-3 shooting.

The U.S. team will be favored in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Although it executed and performed to virtual perfection on its final night, its 10-game, two-week trip to Puerto Rico showed the U.S. team to be in need of at least one more big man and another outside shooter.

Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers sat out the last two games with a sprained thumb, and Kidd stayed in the locker room during the second half because of a sore ankle.

Puerto Rico took the third Olympic spot with a 79-66 win over Canada in the bronze-medal game. Canada's Steve Nash was voted the tournament's most valuable player.