The Dream Team Wakes Up And Crushes Somebody, 127-76 The U.s. Men Saw What Happened To The U.s. Women. Then They Whipped Lithuania In A Semifinal.

Posted: August 07, 1992

BADALONA, Spain — Believe it or not, the U.S. men's basketball team paid attention to what happened to the U.S. women's team Thursday. The women lost. And the men took it out on Lithuania last night.

"Got a wake-up call after our ladies lost," U.S. forward Charles Barkley said. "Anything can happen. On any one night, any team can lose. So we got fired up."

Fired up enough to destroy Lithuania last night in the Olympic semifinals, 127-76. The U.S. men will play Croatia tomorrow night in the gold-medal game. The Croatians beat the Unified Team in yesterday's other semifinal game, 75-74.

Barkley, and several of the U.S. players, felt the United States played its best game since gathering six weeks ago in Portland, Ore., to start the Olympic qualifier, the Tournament of the Americas.

"We were as fired up and intense as I've seen us since our first game against Cuba," Barkley said. "We got one game left now against the second best team here, in my opinion. It's one and done and let's get home to America."

The Lithuanians have become everybody's favorite underdogs here. Sarunas Marciulionis, who also plays for the Golden State Warriors, as does U.S. player Chris Mullin, did a lot of fund-raising for the team. The Grateful Dead made a contribution toward the tie-dyed warm-up shirts that have become a hot item.

The new country's president, Vytautas Landsbergis, came to last night's game and was spotted cheering enthusiastically whenever a Lithuanian player scored. There is a whole nation waiting for this team to win a medal, a bronze medal it must play for tomorrow against the Unified Team.

That game will be serious business, grim and brutal. Four members of this Lithuanian team played with four members of the Unified Team back at the 1988 Oympics when the team was called the Soviet Union.

Last night's game was, Arturas Karnisovas said, "a party."

Karnisovas, who also plays for Seton Hall, squatted on the sidelines in the second half, taking pictures.

"I wanted pictures of me guarding Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan," Karnisovas said. "Oh, yeah, there was no doubt I would bring my camera." Many of the Lithuanians left the arena last night wearing "USA Basketball" T-shirts. A certain "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" atmosphere surrounded the losers.

"I wish we wouldn't have lost by (51) points," Marciulionis said. "I would have rather played better and lost by only 25 or 30."

But the truth is, how well Lithuania played had nothing to do with the outcome. This U.S. team dictates the final margin. Unfortunately for the Lithuanians, Team USA became interested in this tournament again."

"We were a little lethargic against Puerto Rico the other night," Jordan said. "But tonight everybody was very focused and very into it. The way we can take control of things when our minds our right, it's kind of scary, really. Very scary."

The U.S. lead progressed from 11-0 to 40-19 in what seemed like an eye blink. Barkley threw a behind-the-back pass to Jordan. Larry Bird switched the ball from hand to hand, then scooped in an underhand layup. There were slam dunks by the handful. Pat Riley was off his feet. So was Julius Erving. It was a night of sheer appreciation for the wonderful basketball.

"It's a great feeling for me to know I'm playing for a team that has this much control, this much power," Jordan said. "Some of what happened tonight was a direct result of what happened to the women's team. They lost. We could lose."

No one believes that. Not really.

"Us losing, that would be the biggest upset in the history of sports," Barkley said. "But we came here to do a job and every guy on this team knows we have to stay focused. One and done. Get that gold medal and go back to America. Did I say that?"

Then someone made a mistake. He asked Barkley exactly what he missed about America.

"I miss the crime and murder," Barkley said. "I haven't heard about any brutal shootings or stabbings. I miss Philadelphia."

Everybody laughed. Barkley laughed. One and done, Barcelona. Then Barkley and his awesome, more diplomatic teammates, will be back in America. Like a Jordan-led fastbreak, leaving just a trail of Barkleyisms behind.

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