USA Basketball’s magic number for clinching a World Cup berth is down to one.
Langston Galloway and David Stockton each scored 23 points, and moved the Americans to the brink of earning a spot in next year’s World Cup with an 88-81 win over Colombia on Monday night.
The Americans improved to 8-2 in qualifying, with two games left — those coming in February, both on the road. There are multiple ways the U.S. can clinch its spot in the 32-team World Cup field, the simplest of them being a win against either Uruguay on Feb. 23 or Brazil on Feb. 26.
“This is really about the character of your guys,” U.S. coach Jim Boylen said. “And we’ve got a high-character group, guys that care.”
The World Cup will be held in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia next summer. There was a scenario in which the U.S. could have clinched Monday night, if Brazil had lost to Mexico. Brazil won 102-56.
Instead, the Americans now have to wait until February. The only way they wouldn’t qualify for the World Cup — the primary way teams will earn a spot into the 2024 Paris Olympics — is by losing both February games, plus have at least four outcomes of other games not go their way, and then they’d have to lose a series of tiebreakers on top of all that.
The situation would have been dire if Colombia had pulled off the upset. It gave the U.S. a bit of a scare, closing within seven early in the fourth quarter and missing a shot that would have cut the deficit to five.
That’s when Galloway took over.
He scored the next 10 points for the U.S., a pair of 3-pointers coming in that run, to answer every challenge from Colombia. Stockton made a 3-pointer with 4:09 left for an 80-67 lead, and the Americans would escape.
“I didn’t want to let my team lose,” Galloway said. “I didn’t want to let everybody down. I knew it was important, wearing this USA on the front my chest and wearing my name on the back.”
It was fitting that Galloway and Stockton took over down the stretch. The U.S. has used more than 40 different players during the 10 qualifying games, changing the roster with every two-game window, with Galloway and Stockton the veterans who have been in most of the games in this cycle.
Michaell Jackson scored 25 for Colombia, and Romario Roque added 24.
So far, 17 of the 32 spots in the field have been clinched. The last 15 will be secured in February.
Americas Region: Canada has clinched a berth. There are six remaining for FIBA Americas teams, with eight nations — the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Panama — still in the mix for those spots. Colombia, the Bahamas and Panama have been eliminated.
Europe Region: Latvia, Greece, Germany, Finland, Slovenia, France, Lithuania, Spain and Italy are in. That leaves three spots out of the 12 allocated to Europe; Serbia, Georgia and Montenegro currently have the best chance at claiming those. Other teams still in the mix are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Hungary, Iceland — and Ukraine, which stayed alive with a 79-72 win over Iceland on Monday. Turkey, Great Britain, Sweden, Israel, Estonia, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands have been eliminated.
Africa Region: Ivory Coast is in, and that leaves four spots. Angola, South Sudan, Egypt and Cape Verde are in the best positions to clinch; Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Congo and Guinea are still in the mix as well. Uganda and Cameroon have been eliminated.
Asia-Oceania Region: Lebanon, New Zealand, Australia and China have qualified. Japan and the Philippines have also qualified, as tournament hosts. That leaves two spots for Iran, Kazakhstan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Bahrain and India have been eliminated.
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