Derrick Rose and Team USA.
(photo credit: USA TODAY)
The US faces its toughest test to date at the basketball World Cup when it plays Slovenia in the quarterfinals in Barcelona on Tuesday night.
The Americans have cruised through the tournament so far and will also enter the last eight as firm favorites to reach the semifinals.
The US comfortably beat Mexico 86-63 in the Round of 16 and has triumphed in every one of its six games in the tournament so far by at least 21 points.
Fast-flowing basketball from the preliminary group stage made way for physical battles against the Mexicans, with the US scoring its lowest tally of the campaign.
The defending champions were still too strong for the battling Mexicans and contained them to just 38 points in the opening three quarters before taking their foot off the gas in the final period.
“Overall, I was pleased because it’s our sixth game in eight days,” US coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters after guard Stephen Curry led the charge with 20 points.
“I am not unhappy with our team really, I wish they knew each other better but you can’t force that maturing process.”
Slovenia, led by Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic, finished Group D with a 4-1 record before beating the Dominican Republic 71-61 in the last 16. Dragic is averaging 16.5 points and 4.3 assists in the tournament so far, but he will need help from his teammates for Slovenia to have any chance of recording the upset on Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, Lithuania faces Turkey.
An Emir Preldzic-inspired Turkey scraped past Australia 65-64 while Lithuania survived a spirited comeback from New Zealand to run out 76-71 winners.
With just over a minute left Turkey trailed 64-59 but then the Fenerbahce forward Preldzic notched up a three-pointer and with just five seconds left he buried another to close out the game.
“I hope I can do this on every birthday,” Preldzic, who was 27 on Saturday, told reporters. “There is nothing better than delivering when the team needs you most.”
Lithuania will be hoping for another strong performance by center Jonas Valanciunas, who finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds against New Zealand.
On Wednesday, host Spain takes on France while Brazil comes up against Serbia.
Spain breezed past Senegal 89-56 in Madrid in the last 16 to set up a clash with the French who edged out Croatia 69-64.
Center Pau Gasol continued his impressive championships with another effervescent performance with 17 points and five rebounds against the west Africans.
Aiming to win their second world title after the 2006 triumph in Japan, the Spaniards left plenty in the tank.
“We managed to put on a very good display tonight and now we have another meeting with France,” said Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro.
European champion France is missing its entire top echelon, including fourtimes NBA champion Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, but it still overcame the Croats to reach the last eight.
Raulzinho Neto had a game-high 21 points as Brazil avenged its defeat four years ago by Argentina and progressed to the quarterfinals with an 85-65 victory on Sunday.
“It was a very difficult game which we expected but it worked out well for us.
We now have a lot of hope but also know there is a lot of work to do,” Neto told reporters after his starring role.
Brazil next faces Serbia, which struggled in the group stages but against old rival Greece produced its best performance of the tournament after nailing nine-three pointers from 17 attempts.
Greece had won all five group stage games while Serbia squeezed into the knockout stage with a 2-3 record. But having endured strong criticism from the pundits, the Serbs hit top gear at crunch time.
“This is a big win for us and after some modest celebrations this evening, we will turn our attention to the quarterfinal game,” Milos Teodosic told reporters.
“We played as if there is no tomorrow and we don’t want to stop now.”Reuters contributed to this report.