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Rio de Janeiro
Australia was showing signs of regrouping early in Friday's second quarter, when the Jazz's Joe Ingles studied a straightaway 3-point attempt.
Ingles missed. The recovery ended, in that moment. The Aussies' gold medal ambitions were gone.
Serbia's 87-61 victory in the Olympic basketball semifinals becomes even more stunning in the quarter-by-quarter breakdown: 16-5, then 35-14, then 66-38. What happened?
"Pathetic from our end, really," Ingles said, wonderfully summarizing a terrible night.
The performance was stunning, coming from an Australian team that performed brilliantly through six games of this Olympic tournament and earned some of my strongest praise for its offensive work, especially.
"These guys genuinely could receive gold medals … unselfish style … passing experts."
I mean, who wrote that stuff, Ryan Lochte?
I promise, it was all true at the time at least, as of a 90-64 rout of Lithuania in the quarterfinals Wednesday. It was not merely my imagination. Evidence supports the claims: The Boomers were averaging 89 points per game and shooting 51.7 percent from the field, while sharing the ball beautifully and creating open shots that they were hitting consistently against France, Serbia, the USA and everybody else.
And then Serbia cracked down defensively in the rematch, resulting in some shocking numbers. Having scored 95 points against Serbia in group play, the Aussies produced five points in the 10-minute first quarter. Five! Ingles' miss from the left corner on their first possession seemed innocent enough, but he started a trend. Australia made 2 of 15 shots in the period, while committing five turnovers.
By halftime, the shooting totals were 6 of 29 (with Ingles' two easy layups among the successes) and the turnovers numbered 11. Ingles equally blamed his team's defense for the deficit, but that's misguided. Serbia's 35-point total was reasonable; the Serbs could have led by 30 if they were making more shots themselves.
And they almost did lead by 30 after the third quarter, even with the Boomers relatively exploding for 24 points in the period.
Ingles scored his tournament high of 12 points, but he can't be absolved after missing all four of his 3-point tries including the uncontested one in the second quarter when the Aussies were gaining a shred of momentum with a chance to cut the lead to nine. As for ex-University of Utah star Andrew Bogut? Total no-show, after having a phenomenal Olympics to this point. Bogut posted four points and one rebound.
Always honest, Bogut said, "They kicked our ass from start to finish."
The Boomers were not themselves in this game, as their offense became disrupted and they launched a bunch of long shots. Ingles described his team as "kind of flustered," although Serbia deserves a fair amount of the blame for that condition. And offensively, the Serbs played like the Aussies had been playing.
So now what? The Aussies will meet Spain for the bronze medal Sunday, and they spoke hopefully of regrouping to pursue the country's first medal in men's basketball even though they've talked openly about their expectations for gold. Boomers coach Andrej Lemanis mentioned more than once how such hopes were widely derided, but the players believed in themselves.
Beyond Australia, the bronze medal game is potentially big for the mythical Team Utah. If the USA men's volleyball team with BYU alumnus Taylor Sander loses in the bronze medal match Sunday morning, Ingles and Bogut will represent the last hope for a Utah-connected medal in Rio. The state claims ties to one or more medal-winners in every Summer Games since 1964, including Highland High School's Logan Tom with a silver in women's volleyball in London in 2012.
The Boomers still have a shot at a historic bronze medal, but they'll have to rediscover their game quickly. Ingles could rationalize that Friday's showing was "not like us."
Sunday's performance, then, will determine who were the real Aussies in Rio.