World championship favorites the US stormed into the quarter-finals on Monday with a 121-66 rout of Angola and were joined by Russia, who were also on song in their 78-56 win over New Zealand.
The Americans, looking for their first world title since 1994, will start as favorites against Russia, the 2007 European champions, when they meet for a semi-final berth in the Sinan Erdem Dome tomorrow.
An athletic Angolan team displayed glimpses of raw talent and physical ability with rare slam-dunks, blocks and long-range shots, but were brushed aside by a ruthless US outfit.
Leading players such as Kobe Bryant and Lebron James pulled out of coach Mike Krzyzewski’s provisional world championship squad several months before the tournament but it seems their absence has only galvanized his 12-man roster.
“Our guys were strong, they played hard and were very unselfish,” Krzyzewski, the winner of four NCAA college titles with Duke, told a news conference after his team scored 18 three-pointers and had 10 steals.
“We played like we practiced and that’s what a coach always wants to see, so we hope to keep that going in the next game,” he said.
“We know that we are not unbeatable, I have been fortunate to be the US coach for the past five years and there is no one in our country who has greater respect for the international game than me,” Krzyzewski said .
The US picked up 48 rebounds, including 21 offensive boards, as Chauncey Billups led the way with 19 points while Kevin Durant, Eric Gordon and Rudy Gay added 17 each.
Angola forward Joaquim Gomez finished as the game’s top scorer with 21 points and won praise from Krzyzewski for his superb individual performance.
“I know the NBA looks for players all over the world and I would be shocked if there are no players from Angola in the NBA at some time because they are too good a country,” he said.
Russia were largely unimpressive in the group stage, where they scraped several wins against unfancied rivals and were easily beaten by hosts Turkey, but produced a much-improved performance against the battling Kiwis.
They appeared to be put off by New Zealand’s pre-match Haka, a traditional Maori dance usually performed by the country’s rugby team in international events, as they fell behind 9-2 and missed several easy shots in the opening five minutes.
However, New Zealand could not keep up their momentum and the Russians regained their composure as they turned the match with an avalanche of fast breaks and perimeter shots.
Led by Andrey Vorontsevich, who registered 18 points and 11 rebounds, Russia went on a 13-0 run in the third quarter to open up a 51-35 lead and built on their advantage as center Timofey Mozgov added 16 points and seven rebounds.
New Zealand guard Kirk Penney had a game-high 21 points but overall the Kiwis had a poor shooting day, hitting only five three-pointers from 24 attempts.
“My guys took the challenge and stepped up to the plate with some great performances so they deserve all the credit in the world,” Russia’s American coach David Blatt said.
“We have gone through a lot as a national team with none of our stars coming to play, some of them justified while others I don’t want to comment about,” he said.