Dream becomes a nightmare

Sunday, August 22, 2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Passed over by every NBA team and known mostly for his last-second miss in Sydney, a Lithuanian guard finally made a name for himself:

Sah-ROO'-nis Yah-seh-KEH'-vih-shuhs.

Sarunas Jasikevicius, whose off-target 3-pointer kept his team from pulling off the biggest upset of the 2000 Games, didn't miss when it counted Saturday night in a thrilling 94-90 victory against the United States.

He scored 28 points and hit three in a row from behind the arc as the fourth quarter wound down, including a rare four-point play that put his team ahead to stay.

"This is, in a way, an incredible win, and in a way it doesn't mean anything," Jasikevicius said. "What does this mean if you don't win a medal? We beat the States. So what? We came here not to beat the States or any other team; we just came here to fight for the medal."

The Americans gave their best all-around performance of the Olympics and led for most of the game, but they missed 11 of 33 foul shots to allow Lithuania to stay close.

It was the second loss for the U.S. team in Athens, matching the total from the country's first 68 years of Olympic competition in men's basketball. Before these games, the Americans hadn't lost since the 1992 Dream Team first brought pro players to the Olympics.

The United States still qualified for the quarterfinals when Angola lost 88-56 to Greece in Saturday's nightcap. Their opponent will be determined by the results of Monday's games.

"We had kind of a meltdown in the fourth quarter," U.S. coach Larry Brown said. "We gave up over 90 points. You can't have a game like that defensively and expect to win against a quality team."

Lithuania improved to 4-0, clinching the top spot in Group A and joining Spain as the only two unbeaten teams. Saulius Strombergas added 16 points and Ramunas Siskauskas had 14.

Back in Lithuania, fireworks thundered above the capital, Vilnius, after the game, and cheering fans poured into the streets, singing and waving flags.

For Jasikevicius, the victory also brought a measure of satisfaction against the American basketball establishment. In a league filling up with foreigners, the NBA missed one in its own back yard, playing at Maryland.

"I was a free agent in Europe, and it never came -- any offers," Jasikevicius said. "So I think I'm just not a player for the NBA, because these guys know what they're doing. If 30 teams think a player cannot play, I cannot play."

In the fourth quarter, Lithuania went 10-for-10 from the line before Jasikevicius was fouled by Lamar Odom on a 3-pointer with 2:47 left, shooting a satisfied look Odom's way and then making the foul shot.

"I just looked at him because he was hollering and screaming before when he was playing defense," Jasikevicius said.

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