MIAMI (AP) — For the USA Basketball World Cup qualifying team, there was no time to celebrate after moving into first place in their group.
There was an overnight flight to catch.
A game at Barranquilla, Colombia awaits the Americans on Monday night, the second and final matchup in this two-game qualifying window. A win would put the U.S. on the brink of clinching a spot in the 32-team field for next year’s World Cup, and probably would mean the Americans need to win just one of their final four qualifying contests to get the job done.
A loss wouldn’t doom hopes, but would make the task of qualifying a bit more challenging.
“We know what’s at stake,” U.S. qualifying coach Jim Boylen said after Thursday’s 105-71 over Uruguay in Las Vegas, before he and the team rushed out for a red-eye flight to Miami and then a connection to Colombia. “I think this group will enjoy playing on the road. It’s something that matters to them.”
There are 12 teams left in qualifying from the FIBA Americas Region, split into two six-nation groups. Of those, seven will make the World Cup field — the top three finishers in each group, and the best fourth-place team.
At 6-1 and sitting alone in Group F, one game ahead of Brazil (5-2) and two games clear of Puerto Rico, Mexico and Uruguay (all 4-3), the Americans are in an ideal position. But Colombia (3-4) has little margin for error, plus has the emotional lift of coming back from 20 points down to win at Mexico on Thursday night — essentially keeping its hopes alive.
The Americans know they’ll be facing a hostile environment.
“Playing the USA is the biggest situation for every team playing us,” U.S. guard Mac McClung said.
In Group F, Mexico plays at Brazil, Puerto Rico goes to Uruguay and the U.S. plays at Colombia.
In Group E, the other six-nation field in Americas qualifying, the Dominican Republic (5-2) plays at Venezuela (6-1), the Bahamas (2-5) goes to Argentina (5-2) and Canada — at 7-0, the last unbeaten team in the Americas region — plays at Panama (2-5).
It’s basically win-or-else time for the Bahamas and Panama.
The next window of World Cup qualifying games is in November. The U.S. will play home games against Brazil (Nov. 11) and Colombia (Nov. 14) at a yet-to-be-announced site.
The final window of qualifying is in February.