USA Basketball’s magic number for clinching a World Cup berth is down to one.
Langston Galloway and David Stockton each scored 23 points, and moved the Americans to the brink of earning a spot in next year’s World Cup with an 88-81 win over Colombia on Monday night.
The Americans improved to 8-2 in qualifying, with two games left — those coming in February, both on the road. There are multiple ways the U.S. can clinch its spot in the 32-team World Cup field, the simplest of them being a win against either Uruguay on Feb. 23 or Brazil on Feb. 26.
It's also possible the U.S. clinches Monday night, depending on the outcome of a late Brazil-Mexico game.
“This is really about the character of your guys," U.S. coach Jim Boylen said. “And we've got a high-character group, guys that care."
The World Cup will be held in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia next summer.
Colombia gave the U.S. a bit of a scare, closing within seven early in the fourth quarter and missing a shot that would have cut the deficit to five.
That’s when Galloway took over.
He scored the next 10 points for the U.S., a pair of 3-pointers coming in that run, to answer every challenge from Colombia. Stockton made a 3-pointer with 4:09 left for an 80-67 lead, and the Americans would escape.
“I didn't want to let my team lose," Galloway said. “I didn't want to let everybody down. I knew it was important, wearing this USA on the front my chest and wearing my name on the back."
It was fitting that Galloway and Stockton took over down the stretch. The U.S. has used more than 40 different players during the 10 qualifying games, changing the roster with every two-game window, with Galloway and Stockton the veterans who have been in most of the games in this cycle.
Michaell Jackson scored 25 for Colombia, and Romario Roque added 24.
WEMBANYAMA, FRANCE WIN
Victor Wembanyama may very well be on his way the World Cup next summer.
The 18-year-old French standout — the presumed No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA draft — put on a show Monday, as France clinched its berth in the World Cup field with a 92-56 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Wembanyama had 19 points in just over 24 minutes.
“The NBA will be a whole new world, but I want to be at the World Cup in 2023,” Wembanyama said Monday.
France was among six teams that qualified for the World Cup on Monday. The others: defending champion Spain, Greece, Lithuania, Slovenia and Italy.
So far, 17 of the 32 spots in the field have been clinched. The last 15 will be secured in February.
Americas Region: Canada has clinched a berth. There are six remaining for FIBA Americas teams, with eight nations — the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Panama — still in the mix for those spots. Colombia, the Bahamas and Panama have been eliminated.
Europe Region: Latvia, Greece, Germany, Finland, Slovenia, France, Lithuania, Spain and Italy are in. That leaves three spots out of the 12 allocated to Europe; Serbia, Georgia and Montenegro currently have the best chance at claiming those. Other teams still in the mix are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Hungary, Iceland — and Ukraine, which stayed alive with a 79-72 win over Iceland on Monday. Turkey, Great Britain, Sweden, Israel, Estonia, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands have been eliminated.
Africa Region: Ivory Coast is in, and that leaves four spots. Angola, South Sudan, Egypt and Cape Verde are in the best positions to clinch; Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Congo and Guinea are still in the mix as well. Uganda and Cameroon have been eliminated.
Asia-Oceania Region: Lebanon, New Zealand, Australia and China have qualified. Japan and the Philippines have also qualified, as tournament hosts. That leaves two spots for Iran, Kazakhstan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Bahrain and India have been eliminated.
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Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press