If anyone should have been intimidated by the idea of playing against a bunch of NBA superstars, it was Romel Beck.
Beck followed the NBA religiously while growing up in San Bernardino, Calif. He dreamed of one day playing alongside Kobe Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers. Instead, the former UNLV guard found himself playing against Bryant on Monday in the second round of the FIBA Americas Championship.
Maybe it was Beck’s familiarity with the Thomas & Mack Center from his days with the Rebels (2003-05). Or maybe he simply refused to play scared. Either way, Beck put on quite a show for Mexico, scoring 20 points, including a four-point play at Bryant’s expense in the third quarter when he hit a 3-pointer in Bryant’s face and was fouled.
But as has been the case every night in the tournament, Bryant and his Team USA buddies got the last laugh as they took care of Beck and Mexico, 127-100, to remain undefeated at 5-0.
It was the most points scored by the Americans in the tournament, but also the most Team USA has allowed.
When asked if the 100 points allowed was a sign of defensive slippage, USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said, "Whatever sign somebody wants to make of it. We scored like 130 points. It was a different kind of game. But to (Mexico’s) credit, they never gave up.
"For us, we need to move on. We won by 30. I’m not going to complain."
Despite the loss, Beck wasn’t complaining either. He could hold his head high, though his left calf was another story. It stiffened up on him late in the third quarter and coach Nolan Richardson held him out the rest of the way to make sure he’ll be ready for today’s 5:30 p.m. game against Brazil.
But for one night, Beck held his against the world’s best players.
"It’s a little challenging, but if you’re going to be scared, you shouldn’t be out there," said Beck, who was born in Mexico. "If you’re a player, you just go out there and play.
"I’ve always loved playing in the Thomas & Mack. It’s my favorite gym. It seems to be bringing me good luck."
Unlike Sunday’s game against Brazil, which attracted the largest and loudest crowd of the tournament (9,293), Monday’s docile crowd of 4.028 was the smallest of the event’s six days. It would be up to the USA players to generate their own energy.
"I think everyone was at the craps tables after work," Bryant said kiddingly.
Krzyzewski said, "It was definitely strange. It was different tonight."
For the first time in the tournament, Krzyzewski shuffled his lineup, starting Chauncey Billups in place of Jason Kidd at point guard and Amare Stoudemire in place of Dwight Howard at center. Team USA also held out Tayshaun Prince, who suffered a sprained ankle Sunday. Prince is expected to play against Puerto Rico at 8 p.m. today (ESPN2, Cable 31).
Krzyzewski also had his team play mostly zone defense against Mexico after primarily going with man-to-man in the preliminary round.
"We just wanted to give a different look," he said. "Chauncey has been playing really well and Amare has also had a good tournament."
With the Americans playing zone and without the constant pressure, Beck had room to operate. He has been Mexico’s leading scorer with a 22.8 average and scored 15 first-half points. His 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer got Mexico within 65-51 and the 14-point margin was the closest anyone had been to the USA at halftime in five games.
"I’m a slasher and a driver," Beck said. "There was space on the floor and I just tried to take what they gave me and knock down my shots."
Bryant, who scored 21 himself, came away impressed.
"(Beck) is a very good young player," he said. "He’s got as lot of upside. He just has to stay the course."
Despite Beck’s success, the Americans weren’t in any kind of serious trouble. Not as long as Carmelo Anthony had the ball. The Denver Nuggets forward was unstoppable around the rim and finished with 28 points, matching Allen Iverson’s Team USA record for most points in Olympic qualifying competition. Iverson had 28 against Canada in 2003.
The USA pulled away with a flurry of dunks and 3-pointers as LeBron James and Howard powered inside for 19 points apiece and Michael Redd had 15. A 67-percent shooting night from the floor was too much for Mexico (1-4) to overcome.TEAM USA’S NEXT GAME vs. Puerto Rico, 8 p.m. today, ESPN2 (31) DELFINO HELPS ARGENTINA REMAIN UNBEATEN Carlos Delfino had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Argentina made 14 3-point baskets in an 86-63 victory over Venezuela on Monday in the second round of the FIBA Americas Championship. Roman Gonzalez scored 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting to lead Argentina, which finished the first round 4-0, joining the United State as the only unbeaten teams. They play each other Thursday to close the second round. Delfino, of the Toronto Raptors, was 3-for-3 on 3-pointers in the first half as Argentina took a 51-34 lead and coasted. Carlos Cedeno scored 15 points to lead Venezuela (0-4). Puerto Rico 97, Brazil 75 — Larry Ayuso scored 24 points as Puerto Rico (1-3) gained an impressive victory over Brazil (2-2). A 19-2 spurt gave Puerto Rico an 81-56 lead with 4:30 to play. Leandro Barbosa of the Phoenix Suns led Brazil with 34 points, 26 after halftime. He hit 10 of 20 field goals and 12 of 13 foul shots. Canada 95, Uruguay 88 — Canada (2-2) led all the way, using its superior inside game to defeat Uruguay (2-2). Jesse Young had 22 points, Levon Kendall had nine points and nine rebounds, and Samuel Dalembert of the Philadelphia 76ers compiled 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks. Uruguay’s Esteban Batista was held to 16 points, seven under his tournament-leading average. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS