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U.S. Defeats Poland To End FIBA World Cup In Seventh Place

By Chrös McDougall | Sept. 14, 2019, 9:10 a.m. (ET)

Donovan Mitchell reacts at the FIBA World Cup 2019 on Sept. 14, 2019 in Beijing.


At least the U.S. men’s basketball team now goes into the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 with a new winning streak started.

Following two losses, Team USA completed the FIBA World Cup by beating Poland 87-74 to claim seventh place on Saturday in Beijing. With leading scorer Kemba Walker out, Donovan Mitchell led the U.S. with 16 points and 10 assists, while Joe Harris added 14 points.

Thus completed an up-and-down first tournament under coach Gregg Popovich.

After several top players withdrew from consideration for the team, a squad featuring two NBA All-Stars (Khris Middleton and Walker) and one Olympian (Harrison Barnes) saw a 78-game winning streak end in a pre-tournament tune-up game against Australia. The team then barely snuck past Turkey in overtime during the World Cup group stage before ultimately sweeping through the first two rounds to reach the quarterfinals.

That’s when things fell apart.

France beat the U.S. 89-79 on Wednesday, handing the Americans their first loss in a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup semifinals. The loss also ended hopes for a U.S. three-peat in the tournament — something that had never been done — while also ending a 58-game winning streak in major tournaments.

Playing Serbia in a consolation game one day later, a rematch of the 2016 Olympic gold-medal game, the U.S. lost again, this time 94-89, to send the Americans into today's seventh-place game with Poland.

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Previously, Team USA’s worst finish in a major championship was sixth at the 2002 World Cup.

There is room for optimism, though.

With its result in China, the U.S. officially clinched its berth to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, where it will go for a fourth consecutive gold medal. Team USA has medaled in all 18 Olympic tournaments in which it has taken part, and won the gold medal 15 times.

The 2020 Olympic team is also expected to see much of its usual star power return, with some of the biggest names in the sport listed on the team’s national team pool — a group that includes names like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. They’ll be led again by Popovich, a five-time NBA champion as coach of the San Antonio Spurs.

Though, players from this year’s World Cup team could be in the mix again for Tokyo, too.

Walker, a point guard for the Boston Celtics, led the U.S. with 14.4 points and 5.4 assists per game in China, while Mitchell, a Utah Jazz guard, added 13.1 points and 5 assists per game. Indiana Pacers center averaged a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game.

Against Poland, the Americans jumped out to a 28-14 lead in the first quarter and held on after a strong third-quarter push got Poland within seven.

Walker sat out the game with a neck injury, as did his Celtics teammates Jayson Tatum (ankle) and Marcus Smart (hand).

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.