BARCELONA, Spain — James Harden and Stephen Curry went into halftime with no points and no panic.
“We just stick to the program. We know it’s tough for any team to run with us for 40 minutes because of how deep we are and how hard we work on the floor,” Curry said.
“I think we understand we didn’t make many shots in the first half but our defense was pretty solid and if we kept the pressure on them, things would open up.”
They did. Quickly.
Klay Thompson scored 20 points and Harden had 12 of his 14 in the third quarter, helping the U.S. turn a close game into a 119-76 rout of Slovenia on Sept. 9 in the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
Kenneth Faried added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Americans, who will play Lithuania on Sept. 11 in Barcelona for a spot in the Sept. 14th gold-medal game in Madrid. Lithuania beat Turkey 73-61 earlier.
The U.S. led 49-42 at halftime despite shooting just 36 percent, with Harden and Curry, two of the NBA’s top seven scorers, combining to miss all 12 shots. “I said, ‘I don’t think that’ll happen in the second half’ and it didn’t,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Derrick Rose finished with 12 points after coming into the game shooting 8-for-37 in the World Cup. Anthony Davis had 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns led Slovenia with 13 points.
“We prepare but it’s easy to prepare on the paper,” Slovenia coach Zdovic Jure said. “Definitely they were so athletic, they were more aggressive second half and actually they punish every mistake.”
The Americans led by only five points early in the third quarter before tearing off a 27-10 run. That made it 76-54 with about two minutes left in the period, and the game turned altogether lopsided after the Americans scored the first 10 points of the fourth quarter to lead 96-64.
“I thought we played really hard the whole game and we just couldn’t finish in the first half some of those plays,” Krzyzewski said, “and then they stayed with it and then the floodgates opened in the second half.”
So the scoreboard ended up looking much like the Americans’ 101-71 exhibition rout the week the tournament opened, when they had huge advantages in points in the paint and at the free-throw line.
But it didn’t look that way for a while for a U.S. team that had been mostly unchallenged in the tournament while beating opponents by 31.5 points a game.
“We try hard but around 23 minutes it was like, close, the game,” Jure said. “But the power that they have, you know, it was too much for us.”
The Americans shot poorly at the start, but that just gave them more opportunities to pad their rebound totals. They missed 21 shots in the first quarter but grabbed 14 offensive boards and scored 15 second-chance points, though their lead was only 29-22 after one.
The U.S. lead grew to 12 in the second quarter, but the Americans managed only a 3-pointer by Rudy Gay over the final 2 1/2 minutes, and Zoran Dragic’s 3-pointer with 36 seconds remaining cut it to 49-42 at the break.
“They kind of slowed us down in that first half, dictated the tempo and Coach talked to us second half about playing our brand of basketball and how we like to play,” Harden said. “And we came out with that intensity.”
Harden was 0-for-8 in the half while Curry missed all four of his shots while being limited to eight minutes of playing time because of foul trouble.
That gave Rose extra time to get his shot going after struggling badly in the tournament, his first action after missing most of the last two seasons following a pair of knee operations.
“Coach K gave me the green light to be aggressive and play my type of game,” Rose said. “That eased me into the game and I tried to keep it going.”
The tenseness of the first half and the feistiness of the Slovenians seemed to fire up the Americans, who celebrated so wildly after a couple of their dunks that Krzyzewski had to back them up off the floor back toward the bench.
The U.S. finished at 50 percent after making 29-of-45 shots in the second half (64 percent). The Americans outrebounded the Slovenians 53-38.
(BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer)