Team USA suffered its first international loss in nearly 13 years after falling 98-94 to Australia on Saturday before 52,079 spectators at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, ending a 78-game winning streak just a week ahead of the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
The United States had defeated Australia 102-86 just two days earlier, and the Americans hadn’t lost in a major international tournament or exhibition since the 2006 world championship semifinals against Greece (where they went on to win the bronze). The winning streak was the longest in Team USA history, ESPN notes, and the Americans had been 30-0 all-time in Australia.
Now the path to the World Cup looks even more challenging than ever.
“The loss means that we need to play better, and it’s a measure of who you are,” U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich said (via usabasketball.com). “Nobody wins forever. This is a group of guys that has worked very hard, like I said, to get to know each other and to get to know a system. And whatever comes, we can handle.
“Our job is to try to get better every day, and we learned some things tonight. We are actually a better team now than at the start of the game, because of the knowledge that we gained. So, you move on.”
The U.S. took a 49-48 lead at halftime and even extended it to 68-58 before the Aussies started to close the gap.
“They wanted it more than us tonight,” U.S. guard Kemba Walker said. “Lesson learned for us.”
Australia’s win came behind a strong showing from Patty Mills, who plays for Popovich with the Spurs in the NBA, as he scored 30 points, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter. He was the only player to score for the Australians in the final three minutes of the game.
— NBA (@NBA) August 24, 2019
Andrew Bogut added 16 points and nine rebounds for Australia, and Joe Ingles had 15 points and seven assists and Aron Baynes scored 13 points.
For the Americans, Walker was once again the leader with 22 points off the bench. Harrison Barnes added 20 points with six assists, and Donovan Mitchell had 12 points, making him the only other U.S. player to reach double figures.
How will the U.S. bounce back from the loss? “Just watch tape and get more comfortable with our system,” Barnes said.
“I think when you look at international play, every team has been together for a long time,” Barnes said, “but they kind of have their calling card on what they fall back into the system, sets. For us, we’re still getting to that point. We have some comfortability with it, but it’s just continuing to be better at that.”
The U.S. will shift gears and face Canada in an exhibition Monday. The Americans will then play the Czech Republic to open the World Cup on Sept. 1 in Shanghai.