BARCELONA, Spain — The U.S. National Team made 13 three-pointers and leaned on DeMarcus Cousins in the post in the second half to advance to the quarterfinals of the Basketball World Cup with an 86-63 victory over Mexico on Saturday.
Cousins, a former University of Kentucky star, stepped up with nine straight points in the second half and finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. His play impressed Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
"That's a couple of games in a row where he has been a force for us, and he's a different player than Anthony Davis, and that is kind of what we were hoping. ... DeMarcus is coming through for us," Krzyzewski said.
Before the tournament, Cousins was considered to be one of the players on the bubble to make the roster for the United States. Not true, Krzyzewski said.
"We have believed in DeMarcus right from training camp. All the reports about him not making the team and all that were all not right," he said. "We felt he would be the perfect guy with or in place of Anthony at times, but more in the place of Anthony, and I think it's just a matter of him continuing to get in better shape, our guys getting accustomed that when he does come into the game he's different than Anthony and so to look for him."
Krzyzewski said one area Cousins has improved on with the U.S. is his defense.
"He tried to take three charges today. ... He'd get an A-plus from me today, let's just put it that way," Krzyzewski said.
Stephen Curry made six three-pointers and led the U.S. in scoring with 20 points Saturday. He was 7-for-10 from the field, further evidence that one of the game's best shooters was moving past his dismal start to the tournament.
Curry was just 4-for-17 overall in his first two games in Bilbao, Spain, though he shot better over the next three. He saved his best performance for the opener in Barcelona.
Davis, another ex-UK star, scored only four points and former Morehead State forward Kenneth Faried had eight after they were the Americans' dominant players in the first round. The top three scorers for the U.S. on Saturday were perimeter players.
Gustavo Ayon scored 25 points for Mexico, which won last year's FIBA Americas tournament to qualify and then advanced as the No. 4 team out of Group D despite a 2-3 record.
The U.S., which had some poor starts in previous games, surged to a 13-2 lead. After Mexico answered with seven straight, the Americans pushed the score to 23-13 after one period. Thelead stayed in double digits for nearly the entire second quarter, though Ayon had a 10-point period to keep the Americans from getting too far ahead, and it was 42-27 at halftime.
"We picked it up the second half, we played the correct type of basketball and we came out with a tough win," Cousins said. "It's not time to relax. We still got three more games to go"
When asked why the team hasn't put away teams earlier, Cousins said: "I believe it's us. I feel like we're coming out way too relaxed. I feel like we think we can just come out and turn it on when we want to. That can't be the case. We got to come out and hit them in the mouth early."
The Americans next play on Tuesday against Slovenia, which lost to the U.S. 101-71 in an exhibition game Aug. 26 in the Canary Islands.