Souhan: Olympic basketball has Minnesota flavor

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 30, 2012 - 7:32 AM

New Timberwolves Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved starred in a Russian victory and Kevin Love had a strong game for the U.S.

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Russia's Andrei Kirilenko

Photo: Mike Segar, ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP

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LONDON - For Minnesotans, there had never been an Olympic weekend like this, a weekend in which so many players employed by 'Sota teams excelled on an international stage.

Saturday, Lindsay Whalen starred for the U.S. women in her Olympic debut, playing alongside two other Lynx. On Sunday, Kevin Love starred for the U.S. men in his Olympic debut, while surrounded by stars who threaten to dwarf him.

Sunday night, the two new Russian Timberwolves, Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved, dominated Great Britain, displaying chemistry and skills that should translate well to Target Center.

Love scored 14 points in 14 minutes during the United States' 98-71 victory over France. Kirilenko scored 35 points on 14-for-17 shooting, benefitting from the deft passing of Shved, who hit him with three alley-oops and finished with 16 points, 13 assists, six rebounds and three steals.

"If I'm the Minnesota Timberwolves,'' said Russian coach David Blatt, "I've got a big, fat smile on my face."

Had Ricky Rubio been healthy enough to play for the fine Spanish team, the weekend could have been even more 'Sota-centric. As it was, Wolves fans could, for at least a day, celebrate the series of events that led the Wolves to acquire Kirilenko instead of France's Nicolas Batum, who was a wallflower for much of the USA's rout of his team.

"I actually said 'Hi' to AK the other night after the Opening Ceremony," Love said. "I'm definitely going to stay up to date with what he's doing. We talked about it. We're very excited to be teammates back in Minnesota."

Love hasn't met Shved. "I'm going to have a chance to see him play," Love said. "And Ricky will be here, too. He mentioned after he goes back to Colorado to get his knee checked out, he'll be back over here, so anything I can do to get the camaraderie going when we get back to Minneapolis, I'm going to do it.''

U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski chose Love as the player to speak at the news conference, instead of Kevin Durant or LeBron James, a symbolic pat on the back to a player who had struggled.

"In the first game, it means a lot," Love said of the honor. "I needed a game like this. I haven't been playing probably the way I should have. So, hopefully this will be a good omen moving forward and we can continue to play at a high level."

Love entered the game in the second batch of substitutions and did nothing in his first stint. His performance changed in the second quarter, and so did the game.

Love scored seven points in quick successions, on a layup, a three-pointer and a dunk, to help the Americans break open what had been a close game. He hit five of eight shots and had three rebounds and a steal.

"He didn't play as much in the preliminary round or exhibition games, but he's kind of used that as fuel,'' James said. "When Coach K put him in he showed why he should be out there on the floor. We're going to need him. And we love what he was able to do for us today."

Almost six hours after Love impressed his teammates, Shved and Kirilenko put on a show.

Shved played mostly point guard, shifting occasionally to shooting guard, and handled the ball with grace. Kirilenko played with tremendous intensity, scoring most of his points at the rim.

"Kevin has really turned into a superstar right now," Kirilenko said. "Last year, Lexy and myself were watching the games in Minnesota, and how they play. It's a very energetic and nice team."

This fall, the Wolves' rotation could include Love, Kirilenko, Rubio, Shved, Brandon Roy, Nik Pekovic, Chase Budinger, Derrick Williams, Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea and Greg Stiemsma. That group represents five countries, and a marked improvement over last year's roster.

It's a good time to be a Minnesota basketball fan. During these Olympics. And maybe year-round.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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