Team USA dominates Puerto Rico winning 103-70 in the first game at The FIBA Americas 18U Championship in Valdivia, Chile. Puerto Rico played the first 5 minutes of the game neck and neck with Team USA. But Team USA's Head Coach Shaka Smart's full court press "Havoc" forced Puerto Rico to play much faster then it's accustomed to. The full court press forced Puerto Rico to turn the ball over 26 times. Those turnovers led to multiple dunks in transition.
In contrast, Puerto Rico went 4-24 from behind the 3-point line and struggled to get anything going in the half court. You could really see how the pressure by Team USA forced Puerto Rico to make really bad decisions with the ball and rush shots. Everybody for Puerto Rico had a single digit efficiency rating with the exception of one player, Christian Negron. Negron was fantastic today. He may have been the best player on the floor. Negron played above the rim, showed his array of offensive moves and led Puerto Rico with 23 points, 13 rebounds and 3 assists.
A Big East Assistant Coach said about Negron, "He was by far the most active player for Puerto Rico and without question he can play in the Big East. He is big time player who is probably not under the radar anymore after today's game. He is explosive off the floor, plays with an edge and really showed me something tonight. I'm incredibly impressed because he played his best game of the summer against Team USA. That's saying something."
There has been much speculation regarding how much Puerto Rico would put into this game today given that in order for them to qualify for the World Championship next summer, all they need to do is win two of the three games in their pool. The other two teams in the pool are Chile and US Virgin Islands. Clearly Coach Ortiz was open to seeing if the team was up for the challenge of beating Team USA but his smartest move may have been to rest SG Leandro Allende who did not dress today due to an unspecified injury. Ortiz opted to change the starting line up and rotation today against USA which given his experience as a seasoned coach with tons of FIBA experience may end up making a lot of sense. Several key players including Washington, Pacheco, Cruz, Thompson and Jackson will need to show up tomorrow and play much better then they did today. Collectively those 5 went 15/44 from the field and had 17 turnovers. That's simply not good enough for Puerto Rico to advance in this tournament.
Puerto Rico was unable to do any of the 5 things we suggested they needed to do to beat Team USA. Chile is no cake walk so Puerto Rico will need to put this loss behind them and go from there. To be sure Puerto Rico must get better play from their starters and a more consistent approach to running Coach Ortiz's offense.