Originally created 08/05/98

Oliver scores 18 points to help U.S. beat Aussies



ATHENS, Greece -- It was about as close to a dream performance as this U.S. team has mustered.

Jimmy Oliver scored 18 points to lead five players in double figures Tuesday and the unheralded Americans dominated Australia from the outset in a 96-78 victory that earned them a top seeding for the quarterfinals of the World Basketball Championship.

The game was not as close as the final score indicated and the Americans' best performance at the week-old tournament showed that the collection of castoffs is a legitimate threat to contend for the gold medal.

"We finally put two halves together," said Oliver, who has played for nine different teams in the NBA, CBA and Spanish League since leaving Purdue in 1991. "It was unselfish basketball, forcing them to play good defense."

Jason Sasser added 15 points and seven rebounds for the U.S. team, while Jimmy King had 14 points, Wendell Alexis 13 and Kiwane Garris 11.

The United States shot 61 percent from the field (41-of-67), including 8-of-12 from 3-point range. For a change, the team was hot right from the start, taking control with a 22-5 run that made it 35-17 just 14 minutes in.

"Everybody realizes this team has been getting off to slow starts," Alexis said. "We needed to push the ball and be aggressive early."

It was the sort of lopsided game that was commonplace for the various versions of the Dream Team, which is not here because of the NBA labor dispute.

"We have made big progress as far as understanding the team game and what the game plan is," U.S. coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "Every guy now understands what his role is."

The United States (5-1) will face Italy in Friday's quarterfinals. The Italians (4-2) edged Puerto Rico 68-63 and Argentina (3-3) held off Brazil, 86-76, Tuesday to earn the last two quarterfinal berths.

In games which determined seedings for the quarterfinals, Yugoslavia, the other top seed, beat Greece 70-56; Russia defeated Canada 81-72; and Spain beat Lithuania 86-80 in overtime.

The other quarterfinal matchups are: Yugoslavia (5-1) vs. Argentina; Spain (5-1) vs. Greece (4-2); and Lithuania (4-2) vs. Russia (5-1).

Tomjanovich's mix-and-match roster showed patience on offense, moving the ball well.

"We kept changing defenses," Australia coach Barry Barnes said. "We tried pressure, we tried laying off their shooters. But nothing worked."

Alexis, who played at Syracuse more than 10 years ago and is now playing in Germany, had all of his points in the first half, which ended with the United States leading 54-31 when Oliver hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Australia never got closer than 18 points the rest of the way.

Guard Shane Heal provided the only consistent threat for Australia, which needed a win to qualify for the quarterfinals. Heal, who played one season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, finished with 31 points, mostly on long-range jumpers. No one else scored more than eight points for Australia.

"For our tournament to hinge on a game with the United States was tough," Barnes said. "Talk about being behind the 8-ball."