SAPPORO, Japan -- Now comes the hard part.
The United States closed a perfect week of group play last night by routing Senegal, 103-58, even as Dwyane Wade had the night off. (Chris Bosh scored 20 points and LeBron James added 17.) But with more demanding games ahead, one stumble and this young but talented team will be out of the hunt for the country's first FIBA world championship title since 1994.
The US will open the medal phase against Australia, the fourth-place finisher in Group C, Sunday in Saitama.
``We came over here to win the gold," center Dwight Howard said. ``The first game is Sunday, and we can start off on the right note."
The reward for winning Group D is substantial: The Americans won't have to face Argentina or Spain until the final. But there's a lot of basketball to be played before then.
``There will be some surprises," said Senegal's Makhtar N'Diaye, who played in college at Michigan and North Carolina. ``Argentina and Spain can bring a lot of havoc."
The US faced only one tough test in Group D -- Wednesday's 94-85 victory over Italy, which finished second. The competition will improve dramatically, although some teams aren't familiar to the Americans. They know Australian center Andrew Bogut, who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks. And they're well-acquainted with Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki, whose German team could meet the US in the second round. Nowitzki lit up Angola for 47 points in Germany's 108-103 triple-overtime victory yesterday. .
This is where the new US scouting department should pay dividends.
``We're going to be familiar with some of the players but not the teams," scouting director Rudy Tomjanovich said.
Aside from the US, the favorites are Olympic champion Argentina and Spain. One of the big surprises is Angola, averaging 90.2 points per game.