SAITAMA, Japan -- Duke forward Carlos Boozer led the way with 18 points and five rebounds today as the United States defeated Croatia 88-69 on the opening day of the World Basketball Championship for Young Men.
Boozer, a 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate, keyed an 11-point run with seven points as the Americans took charge early in the final quarter, opening up a 68-50 lead at the 20,000-seat Saitama Super Arena, northwest of Tokyo.
"He's a key player for us," said coach Jim Boeheim of Syracuse. "We've been trying to get him to be more aggressive and I thought he did a tremendous job for us both on offense and defense."
"I think what started everything in the second half was our defense," Boozer said. "We came in at halftime and said we had to pick up our defense and we went out there and got stops and got easy layups, and that's something we're going to have to do throughout the tournament."
Guard Troy Bell of Boston College also had a strong game with 15 points, while Nick Collison of Kansas had 12 points and Reggie Evans of Iowa scored 10.
"We've only been together for two games so we just wanted to come out and play solid defense," said Bell.
The United States opened up a 10-point lead midway through the third quarter and led by seven heading into the final 10 minutes. The lead would have been greater if not for a three-pointer by Croatia's Srdan Subotic just before the buzzer.
The Americans held a 36-33 halftime lead at the half courtesy of six straight points by Bell in the last minute of the second quarter.
Our strength is our talent, one through 12, and also how hard we play," Boozer said. "Every player, whether you're out there for five minutes or you're out there for 25 minutes, you've got to play as hard as you can because our talent will take over. We have great players on this team, one through 12, and if we all play to our potential and play as hard as we can it's going to be hard to beat us."
In other Group B games Friday, Yaniv Green had 18 points and Afik Nisim added 16 as Israel downed South Korea 95-69 while Argentina outplayed the host nation en route to a 93-56 victory.
In Group A, Roberto Morentin scored 19 points as Spain defeated the Dominican Republic 97-64.
David Anderson was 10-for-19 from the field and had 13 rebounds as defending champion Australia cruised to an 87-67 win over Egypt. Slovenia trounced Qatar 79-49 in Friday's other Group A game.
The top four teams in each group advance to the quarterfinals which begin Thursday, Aug. 10.
"This is a great experience," Boozer said. "We're playing against different teams from different countries, and they all have different styles of play. It's a good first experience, but we have to keep building and learning and we'll get better."
This is the third world championship for young men. The inaugural tournament took place in Spain in 1993 and was won by the United States. The United States took fifth place in 1997 in Melbourne, Australia.