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USA vs. Australia Basketball Rio Olympics 2016: Anthony carries Americans to win as WSU alums struggle

It was a rough night for WSU’s alums as Australia and the United States faced off in pool play at the 2016 Olympics.

Olympics: Basketball-Men's Team-Preliminary AUS vs USA John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

So it turns out not every game in Rio will be a blowout for USA basketball. The Australians led the Americans for most of the first half in their pool play match-up on Wednesday, handing Team USA its first Olympic halftime deficit since 2004. However, the heavy favorites bounced back in the second half, in large part thanks to hot shooting from Carmelo Anthony, en route to a 98-88 win.

Anthony led the United States with 31 points, including nine 3-pointers, to overcome poor shooting from the rest of the American squad. Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving carried the USA in the final minutes, finishing with 19 points.

But if you are reading this recap on this website, you probably are more interested in how the three Washington State alums—Klay Thompson, Aron Baynes and Brock Motum fared. The short answer is “not well,” but I’ll give you a little more detail.

For starters (pun intended), this was the first game of the tournament that Thompson was not in the starting lineup for head coach Mike Krzyzewski. The Golden State guard’s 1 for 11 shooting performance to that point in the Olympics certainly had something to do with it, but the NBC Sports Network broadcast also noted that Thompson had asked to be moved to the bench, finding it hard to get into a rhythm playing with volume shooters Anthony, Irving and Kevin Durant.

It seemed maybe the change helped, as Thompson came out in his first offensive possession and buried a three from the corner. That, unfortunately, was not a sign of things to come. Thompson finished with just six points on 2-9 shooting (2-6 on 3s).

Despite starting from the bench, he still played starter minutes thanks to tough defense on Australia’s NBA guards Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills. Grabbing four boards and dishing out two assists, including a nice behind-the-back pass out of a trap to find an open Anthony, didn’t hurt, either.

Thompson’s 2008-2009 WSU teammate Aron Baynes couldn’t stay on the floor, and when he did, he was busy watching Anthony bury 3s. Baynes was given the unfortunate task of guarding the USA’s “stretch 4s”. He still couldn’t resist sagging into the middle, his natural defending position, leaving Anthony open frequently. The Detroit Piston reserve, who may or may not be pushing seven feet with that mini man-bun, has been much better in the Olympics when he can bang inside.

Baynes, who never once committed a legitimate foul at WSU (in his own eyes), sat much of the game with foul trouble. He picked up two in the first, causing him to sit the first half of the second quarter before coming in and immediately picking up his third. It wasn’t long in the third quarter until he was pegged with a fourth foul, but he did manage to play the final five minutes.

The big man missed all five of field goal attempts, but did pick up four points from the free throw line. Normally a solid rebounder, he struggled to get defensive boards with his man on the outside for most of the game, finishing with just two total rebounds. This was a huge issue overall for the Aussies, as the Americans grabbed nearly 40 percent of their own misses.

Finally, Baynes’s foul trouble meant Brock Motum, who had seen just one minute in garbage time in Australia’s first two games, played just over two minutes at the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second. He missed a jumper, grabbed a rebound, and also saw Anthony bury a 3-pointer.

Overall, not a great day for the Cougs, as two-thirds lost, and the other continued his shooting struggles. All three will be back in action on Friday, when the Australians face China and the USA takes on Serbia.