Originally created 07/31/98

U.S. win streak ends at 26 in loss to Lithuania



ATHENS, Greece -- Bring back the Dream Team.

The United States basketball team, perennially one of the most feared in the world, was shocked by Lithuania 84-82 Thursday in a first-round game of the world championships.

The last time the United States lost in a world championship or Olympics was -- pre-Dream Team -- in the 1990 world championships to Yugoslavia 99-91 in the semifinals. Since then, the U.S. had won 26 games.

Former Seton Hall player Arturas Karnisovas led Lithuania with 29 points.

The Americans had a chance to win, but Jimmy Oliver missed a 30-foot, 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

"They were a little better than we were," said coach Rudy Tomjanovich, who has assembled a hodgepodge of a team over the past month since the NBA lockout began.

"I'll go a bit farther: They were better for most of the game than we were. They played a very intense, aggressive style of basketball."

In fact, they played American-style basketball.

"We came out and wanted to play like they (Americans) play, which is powerful, physical basketball," Karnisovas said. "We wanted to be very aggressive and run the ball. That's why we stayed in the game and that's why we won. We came out and played like they do."

The Lithuanians outran the Americans and led 47-34 at halftime.

"Karnisovas was a big factor, driving and slashing for the basket," Tomjanovich said. "They played a very positive, offensive game. By the time we got it under control, it was too late."

Beating the Americans is a big accomplishment in world basketball and -- if anyone needed reminding -- it's easier when the United States fields anything but its best players.

Lithuania took bronze behind the Dream Team in the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics, but failed to reach the '94 worlds.

Granted, this isn't the best U.S. team -- but it isn't the best Lithuanian team either. Zydrunas Ilgauskas of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers isn't playing because of an injury and Portland Trail Blazers center Arvydas Sabonis no longer plays with the national team because of injuries.

Donn Nelson, the Dallas Mavericks assistant who has worked as an assistant for Lithuania for six seasons, was not surprised.

"Except for Arturas and (center) Gintaras Einikis, this is a very young team, but now they believe they can beat anybody," Nelson said.

Lithuania is 2-0 to lead Group C. The Americans fell to 1-1 and will face South Korea Friday. Lithuania plays Brazil, which defeated South Korea 76-73.

In other games, European champion and 1990 world champion Yugoslavia, the Group B leader at 2-0, defeated Russia 82-74 in overtime; Puerto Rico beat winless Japan 78-57; Canada downed Senegal 70-57, and Argentina improved to 2-0 in Group D with a 68-51 win over Nigeria.