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United States men’s basketball downs Cuba in World Cup qualifier

There were some cheers for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before USA Basketball’s match in Cuba on Independence Day.

And then the Americans celebrated the holiday with a big victory.

Xavier Munford scored 24 points and the U.S. defeated Cuba 87-64 on Monday night to close the first round of qualifying for next year’s Basketball World Cup — improving to 31-1 all time versus the island nation.

“It’s emotional to play on the Fourth of July,” said Jim Boylen, who coached the U.S. in all three of the two-game windows in the opening qualifying round. “It’s emotional to be here with this group of guys, with USA across our chests. It’s a big day. Our country is 246 years old today and we’re just thankful for this moment together.”

Munford was 10 for 12 from the floor for the Americans, who got 13 points from Justin Jackson, 12 from John Jenkins — all from 3-point range — and 10 apiece from Will Davis and Langston Galloway.

“It’s July 4th. No better feeling than to get a win tonight,” Munford said.

Jordan Bell concluded with eight rebounds and six assists for the Americans, whose spot in the second round of qualifying was previously secured. They’ll take a 5-1 record into the second round, well on their way to clinching a spot in the World Cup and moving a big step closer toward getting USA Basketball qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

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Yoel Cubilla led Cuba (0-6) with 15 points.

The Americans will start the second round of World Cup qualifying on Aug. 25, with the expectation that the first matchup will be versus Uruguay in Las Vegas.

The U.S. will also play Aug. 29, probably on the road and likely against Colombia, though FIBA has yet to confirm that as the matchup.

The two road wins on this trip — the Americans beat Puerto Rico on Friday — puts the U.S. in a prime position to qualify for the World Cup. The roster was primarily composed of G League players, as is always the case for the Americans in World Cup qualifying, and Boylen said this group came together quickly.

“We came together 11 days ago and our team was focused, our guys were great, we worked on the basics, we got better every day and I thought we played the right way,” he said. “The ball moved, we grew together, and we cared for each other.”

The U.S. will be grouped with Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Colombia in the second round. Also grouped from the Americas region will be Venezuela, Argentina, Panama, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

Both of those groups will send three teams to the World Cup; the best fourth-place team from either of those groups will also go, with the Americas region sending seven teams to the tournament that will be played in the summer of 2023 in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.

Cuba led 16-14 after the first quarter Monday night. But the Americans scored 14 points in the first 2:19 of the second quarter to take command.

“We lost the first quarter, but I thought the second quarter, we responded,” Boylen said.

A 3-pointer by Jackson opened the second quarter and put the U.S. ahead for good. The lead was 49-32 early in the third — ending what was a 35-16 run by the U.S. — and the Americans remained ahead the rest of the way. “The Cuba team was great,” Munford said.

“They came out with a great effort. They made us work for it. They had strong guys. We played well tonight. We executed, took care of the ball, ran our offense and played USA style of basketball.”

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USA basketball draws Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico for World Cup qualifying

Team USA will face Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba in the first round of qualifying for the 2023 Basketball World Cup.

The Americans, who acquired a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal in Tokyo but concluded only seventh at the most recent Basketball World Cup two years ago, found out their qualifying opponents Tuesday when the draw was held at FIBA headquarters in Mies, Switzerland.

It will also be the first major tournament for USA Basketball with Grant Hill as managing director. Hill is succeeding Jerry Colangelo in that role; Colangelo oversaw each of the last four Olympics for the U.S., helping assemble teams that collected gold medals each time.

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The U.S. has won the World Cup five times, most recently in 2014.

There are 80 teams in the qualifying rounds. It starts with a double round-robin; all teams in the various groups for the first round will play the other three teams in their group twice. First-round games will be played during three different windows — Nov. 20-30, Feb. 21-March 1 and June 27-July 5.

Second-round games start in August 2022 and run through February 2023. The next World Cup — to be hosted by the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia — takes place from Aug. 25 through Sept. 10, 2023.

Defending World Cup champion Spain, trying to become one of the 12 European qualifiers for the tournament, opens with games versus Ukraine, Georgia and North Macedonia in the opening round.

As hosts, the Philippines and Japan are already in the 32-team World Cup field. The other 30 spots will be decided through qualifying. Indonesia does not get an automatic spot as a host country.

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