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01 Oct 2000
Sydney 2000

Lithuania fall just short of huge basketball shock

The USA won the gold medal in Sydney, just as everyone expected them to. They defeated France in the final by a comfortable 10 point margin. However, the match of the tournament came in the semi-final when the USA played Lithuania.

The two teams had come up against each other earlier in the tournament, with the United States winning 85-76. It was the nearest that any team had come to beating the Americans since professional players joined the US squad and it sent out a clear message that Lithuania were not to be underestimated.

The USA’s path to the semi-final had been largely straightforward after that game, and the rematch against Lithuanian started with clear indications that they had discovered better form. At half-time they led 48-36 and seemed to be in control.

And yet then something unexpected happened. Lithuania went on a remarkable scoring spree at the start of the second half, scoring 20 points and conceding just six. Suddenly the scoreboard showed them taking the lead 56-54 and the American stars found themselves in unfamiliar territory. They were used to steamrollering the opposition – how would they cope with this level of pressure?

They regrouped, but the standard of play from their opponents remained extremely high. The teams exchanged points, with neither enjoying an advantage of more than three points. Going into the final minute, it was tied at 80-80 before Ramunas Skiskauskas' free throw gave Lithuania a one-point lead with 43 seconds left to play. The USA responded with four points, Lithuania grabbed two, then Jason Kidd landed a free throw to put the Americans ahead 85-83.

In the closing seconds, Lithuania’s Sarunas Jasikevičius launched a three-point shot, knowing that if it went in, his team would have pulled off one of the great Olympic shocks. Time seemed to stand still as the ball arced towards the net – and fell just short. The world gasped – but the Americans had somehow survived.

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