Pop says consistency key to US revival after France basketball upset

SAITAMA, JAPAN (AFP) – United States (US) coach Gregg Popovich said his star-studded team must discover more consistency if they are to successfully defend their Olympic basketball crown.

The US line-up suffered their first defeat at the Olympic basketball tournament in 17 years early yesterday, slumping to an 83-76 loss to France in their opening game in Saitama.

It followed an unconvincing series of warm-up games in Las Vegas earlier this month, where Popovich’s side suffered surprise back-to-back defeats to Australia and Nigeria.

The loss has raised the possibility that the US reign over Olympic basketball which has included three consecutive gold medals in 2008, 2012 and 2016, could be in jeopardy.

Popovich said the Americans must make an all-round improvement to get their Olympic campaign back on track as they prepare for their game against Iran tomorrow.

USA’s coach Gregg Popovich talks to his player during a time out in the men’s preliminary round group A basketball match between France and USA during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama. PHOTO: AFP

“We need to be more consistent, we led a lot, and we erred on defence, made too many mistakes, had too many sterile possessions and took bad shots,” Popovich said.

Popovich also bristled at suggestions that the US defeat could be characterised as an upset, pointing out that the French line-up was spearheaded by NBA stars of the calibre of Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert.

“France have a great coaching staff, NBA players, other talented players playing in Europe who’ve been together for a long time,” Popovich said.

“I think that’s a little bit of hubris, if you think the Americans are supposed to just roll out the ball and win. You have to work for it, and for those 40 minutes they played better than we did.”

“We’ve got to work for it just like everybody else. When you lose a game, you’re not surprised, you’re disappointed.

“I don’t understand the word ‘surprised’, that sort of disses the French team, as if we’re supposed to beat them by 30.

Popovich maintained that the US defeat also signalled that the rest of the world was fast catching up to the US, who have lost just six of 144 games at the Olympics.

Since NBA players began completing in the Olympics in 1992, the US have lost just only four of 53 games.