Basketball: Dixon, Gibbs off to perfect start in New Zealand

By Jay Huerbin

Competing on an international level has not slowed down Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon.

As coach of Team USA at the 2009 FIBA Under-19 World Championship, Dixon has gone 5-0 in the tournament and secured a No. 1 seed in the quarterfinals.

Joining Dixon from Pitt is sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs, who is averaging more than 20 minutes and 10 points per game.

After going 3-0 in preliminary round play, the United States defeated Greece and Puerto Rico in the second round. Despite the outcome of its final second round game against Lithuania tonight, Team USA will become the top-seeded team when Championship play begins on Friday in Auckland, New Zealand.

United States 106, Iran 55

The tournament could not have started better for Dixon and Team USA — they dominated their opening game of the tournament July 2. The United States pounded Iran 106-55 in a game that saw seven of Team USA’s 12 players reach double-digits in points scored.

Gibbs, who will likely see more playing time with the Panthers this season because Levance Fields graduated, played 20 minutes off the bench. He finished the game with 10 points, four assists, two steals and two rebounds.

For Dixon, the first game was just what he expected.

“One thing we did pretty well was shoot the ball, and we made some extra passes, made good decisions,” Dixon said. “We need to cut down on some turnovers, but I think it was a good start.”

United States 71, France 55

Despite an apparent blowout win in Team USA’s second preliminary round game against France July 3, Dixon said he didn’t think his team played perfect basketball.

“It was a pretty decisive win, but I thought we could have played better,” Dixon said. “We needed to shoot the ball well and we didn’t.”

Fortunately for Dixon, his team responded to the 32.1 percent shooting performance by playing a strong game defensively — coming down with 39 rebounds and forcing 17 turnovers.

Gibbs, who scored 10 points in the game, said he expected a strong start from his team.

“We knew they were a tough team, so we wanted to make a statement quick, make a statement early, bring our intensity,” he said. “And I think that’s what we did.”

United States 112, Egypt 55

In a Fourth of July matchup 6,500 miles away, the United States dominated Egypt 112-55 in the United States’ final preliminary round matchup.

Led by Gibbs, who scored 18 points in 18 minutes off the bench, Team USA went 43 for 76 in field goals and shot 63.3 percent from beyond the arc. The United States also played an aggressive defensive game while coming down with 49 rebounds and forcing 15 turnovers.

“We knew this was a game that we should win,” Dixon said. “What I was impressed with was the focus and determination we showed today. One of our goals was to finish the preliminary round with our group’s No. 1 seed, and we achieved that.”

The win secured Team USA an undefeated record during preliminary round play and a No. 1 seed heading into the second round of the Tournament.

United States 85, Greece 69

After cruising through the first round of the FIBA Under-19 World Championships, Team USA defeated Greece on Monday. Despite turning the ball over 17 times, the United States shot 50 percent from field goal range and secured 38 rebounds in the 85-69 victory.

The win improved the United States’ overall record to 4-0.

Dixon said it wasn’t the best game his team had played this tournament, but he felt glad they won.

“It was a little different game for us, a kind of grind-it-out game,” Dixon said. “It wasn’t real pretty as far as offense, but I thought we defended some things pretty well. We figured out some things as the game went on, so it was a good win.”

Gibbs, who scored eight points coming off the bench, averaged 11.5 points and 3.5 assists per game through the first four matchups.

United States 82, Puerto Rico 61

After playing consistently off the bench throughout the first four games of the tournament, Gibbs was given the starting position at guard in the United States’ 82-61 win over Puerto Rico.

Gibbs, who played for 22 minutes, finished the game with eight points, two assists and a steal.

Needing a shutdown defense because of shooting struggles, the United States responded by recording 51 rebounds and holding Puerto Rico to 32.1 percent shooting from the field.

With the help of Gibbs, Team USA won its fifth game of the tournament and improved to 2-0 in the second round. Despite another second round game against Lithuania tonight, the United States has secured a No. 1 seed heading into the quarterfinals. Its opponent will be determined at the end of second round play, which also ends tonight.