Team USA got an early taste of the physical approach that World Cup opponents are likely to try, writes Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. For all their talent, the Americans only have one true center on their roster and they aren’t as big and strong as many of the teams they’ll face. New Zealand attacked the U.S. frontline from the outset in Saturday’s opener and built a 14-4 lead before the game turned around.
“They came out right away and were very physical and took it to us,” said head coach Steve Kerr said. “We need to feel that, because that’s what these games are going to be like.”
With Jaren Jackson Jr. in foul trouble early in the second half, Kerr turned to Paolo Banchero, a natural forward who’s being asked to play center during the tournament. Banchero wound up leading Team USA with 21 points while blocking four shots, several of which led to fast-break opportunities.
“Being in the World Cup, my role is my role. I kind of have accepted it,” Banchero said. “I just want to do it to the best of my ability. J.J., he’s a great player. I gotta be able to pick up where he left off when he comes out the game.”
There’s more from the World Cup:
- The fan favorite in the Philippines is Austin Reaves, who benefits from playing for the Lakers, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic. L.A. is the nation’s favorite NBA team because of past visits to Manila by Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. “I was talking to (Lakers assistant) Phil Handy, and he was telling me that they love the Lakers out here,” said Reaves, who got a huge ovation during pre-game introductions. “So I kind of seen it coming. It’s special for me.”
- Magic forward Franz Wagner is considered day-to-day after turning his ankle in Germany’s first game, per Olgun Uluc of ESPN. Team doctor Oliver Putz provided an update Saturday, telling reporters that the injury doesn’t appear to be serious. “Nothing is broken, torn or anything like this, things that would end the FIBA World Cup for him,” he said. “Franz feels better this morning than yesterday. We did another MRI this morning. But the problem is that we don’t have the imaging yet, so we can’t say exactly what’s hurt yet.”
- Spain’s Rudy Fernandez set a European record Saturday by playing in his fifth World Cup tournament, notes Johnny Askounis of Eurohoops.