MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Paolo Banchero scored 21 points off the bench, Anthony Edwards added 14 and the U.S. shook off a slow start to beat New Zealand 99-72 on Saturday in the Basketball World Cup opener for both teams.
Jaren Jackson Jr. and Austin Reaves each scored 12 for the Americans, who remained unbeaten in six games this summer — the first five of them exhibitions. This game was the first that counted for the Americans, who are trying to win the World Cup for the sixth time and erase the memory of finishing seventh in FIBA’s biggest tournament four years ago in China.
It wasn’t easy for the pre-tournament favorites: Their lead was only 12 with 2:01 to go in the third before Banchero hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to give the U.S. its biggest edge of the night to that point, and the Americans kept control from there.
Reuben Te Rangi led New Zealand with 15 points.
New Zealand’s players performed a pregame haka — the traditional show of national pride expressed through dance and chanting by the entire 12-man roster — with the U.S. players standing at the other end and watching in silence.
The haka worked; New Zealand took a quick 14-4 lead.
Eventually, though, the U.S. started figuring things out. A 12-2 run tied the game, Tyrese Haliburton’s 3-pointer with 6:58 left in the half put the Americans up for good, the lead was 45-36 by the half and they wouldn't trail again.
The U.S. could secure a spot in the second round as early as Monday, when it takes on Greece (1-0) in a rematch of an exhibition game in Abu Dhabi earlier this month. The Americans won that game 108-86, with both teams holding some things back knowing they’d play for higher stakes in Manila.
Greece coach Dimitrios Itoudis said he expected his team’s opening game — a 21-point win over Jordan on Saturday — to be tough. He was asked postgame what he expected from the matchup with the U.S.
“Tougher one," Itoudis said. “Much tougher one.”
New Zealand: No player on New Zealand’s roster has played an NBA game. The players on the U.S. roster have combined to score 49,395 points in 3,454 NBA games, including playoffs. … Finn Delany and Shea Ili each scored 12.
USA: Jackson Jr. had a perfect shooting night — 4 for 4 from the field, 4 for 4 from the line. ... The Americans used 10 players in the first quarter, looking for the combination that worked.
The U.S. assistant coaches are splitting scouting responsibilities during the tournament. Gonzaga coach Mark Few was tasked with preparing the report for the New Zealand game, Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue will do it for the Greece game on Monday and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has it for the Jordan game on Wednesday.
The U.S. has played New Zealand four times now in senior men’s competition and won them all. The U.S. prevailed 102-56 at the 2000 Olympics, 110-62 at the 2002 World Cup and 98-71 at the 2014 World Cup.
New Zealand: Faces Jordan on Monday.
USA: Faces Greece on Monday.
Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press