Thursday was a tough day to be a U.S. wheelchair basketball fan. Both the Australian men and women defeated their American counterparts in the semifinals. While Australia moves on to play for the gold medal in both the men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball game, the Americans are playing for bronze.
Following the 40-39 of the U.S. women, the U.S. men fell by a score of 72-63 in a game that was much closer than the final score reflects. It was a disappointing loss for a Team USA team that was determined to avenge an earlier loss to Australia in group play.
“We knew it would be rough,” U.S. men’s coach Jim Glatch said. “Australia is a great team and they are the reigning world champions. We put up a fight and kept kicking at them but at the end we could not kick enough.”
The Aussies came out hot and were ahead 18-8 at the end of the first quarter and early in the second quarter, the Aussies built up a 13 point lead. Team USA was determined to weather the storm and put together a great second quarter and trailed by four going into halftime.
After the U.S. came back from a 15 point deficit, center Nate Hinze talked about the team’s attitude at the half, “I think we all felt really good heading into the locker room down for after being down as many as 15.”
Team USA is known for having great depth on the squad and Hinze along with fellow center Joe Chambers played big roles in for Team USA after playing minimal roles in the quarterfinals. In fact, Chambers scored four points in nine minutes of action against Germany while Hinze didn’t come off the bench.
In stark contrast, on Thursday night at the North Greenwich Arena, the two combined for 19 points and caused trouble for Australia. Unfortunately, it was not enough to dethrone the reigning Paralympic champions, who look poised to repeat.
“In 2010 they won the world championships and in 2008 in Beijing they were gold medalists,” captain Paul Schulte said. “So right now they are king of the hill. Hats off to the Aussies, they’re a terrific team.”
While this loss means that Team USA won’t be returning home with a gold medal, the bronze would mean a lot to the team the entire U.S. wheelchair basketball program. Captain Will Waller pointed out that there still a lot to play for, including the team’s first medal since 2000.
“I think our team is going to approach this like it is our gold medal game,” Hinze said. “A lot of the guys in the locker room are experienced, they were in Beijing and they know what it’s like to not come home with a medal and I think we have guys who want a medal, no matter what color it is now.”
Paul Schulte echoed that sentiment saying, “Being able to be on the podium with any medal is a big honor for your country so we’re going to fight hard and try to do just that.”
To get on the podium Team USA will have to beat the loser of the Canada Great Britain game. In preparation for the Games, teams USA played exhibitions against both teams.
“We spent a week up in Canada this summer and then we played Team GB in May and June so whoever we face tomorrow,” Hinze said. “We’re both going to be really familiar with one another.”
The bronze medal game will be played Sept. 8.