Team USA got off to a horrifically slow start and couldn’t quite overcome that early deficit on Thursday, falling to Serbia 94-89 in a consolation game at the FIBA World Cup.
The loss of the classification matchup means that the Americans will now play against Poland on Saturday for seventh or eighth place in the tournament, either of which will be the worst result in history for any incarnation of Team USA at a major basketball tournament.
USA, Serbia Left With Little to Play For
The previous worst result came at the 2002 world championship, when Yugoslavia knocked out the United States in the quarterfinals. Team USA would go on to beat Puerto Rico and then lose to Spain, finishing the tournament in sixth place.
Thursday’s game could have been for much more than final positioning in the event. Heading into the tournament, many people were predicting a gold medal matchup between the United States and Serbia, which appeared to be by far the two most talented teams.
Even with many top stars choosing not to play for Team USA this summer, the Americans still had the deepest team in the field, while first team All-NBA selection Nikola Jokic appeared ready to lead a Serbian squad also featuring Sacramento Kings shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic. While the Americans were favored, just about everyone saw Serbia as a real threat to take its third World Cup gold medal, and its first since 2002.
What few expected was that both teams would get knocked off in the quarterfinals. Argentina showed it is still a force in international basketball by beating Serbia on Tuesday, before France upset the United States on Wednesday.
That left little to play for in the classification match, as even the Olympic positioning was sealed for both sides. The United States has already qualified for Tokyo 2020, while Serbia will have to go through the qualification tournament to have a chance to play for gold next year.
Bogdanovic Leads Serbia to Victory
It showed. Serbia dominated the first quarter to the tune of a 32-7 score, but the Americans would come back to win the second quarter 33-12 in nearly as dominant a fashion. The game would remain close the rest of the way, but the Serbians were able to hold on for a five-point victory.
Bogdanovic led the way with 28 points, while Jokic had a fairly quiet game, scoring just nine and adding seven assists.
“It’s a really tough game to play against those guys,” Bogdanovic told reporters after the game. “I’m sure both teams were really upset after losing in the quarterfinals and we were just trying to make people happy.”
Serbia will play the Czech Republic in the fifth-place game on Saturday.
Harrison Barnes led the United States with 22 points, while Kemba Walker added 18 in the losing effort. While the members of Team USA still expressed pride that – at a minimum – they had secured Olympic participation, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo lamented the fact that dozens of players had chosen not to represent their country at the FIBA World Cup.
“The players did everything they can do. They are a good group of guys,” Colangelo told reporters. “But we went in with higher expectations in terms of roster and it didn’t kind of happen the way we were hopeful and anticipating and expecting. That, to me, was a big disappointment.”
With the pre-tournament favorites out of the FIBA World Cup, all the remaining semifinalists are seen as threats to walk away with the gold medals. At FanDuel Sportsbook, France (+155) is the slight favorite over Spain (+195), with Australia (+290) and Argentina (+600) also in the mix.