The USA, led by 19 points from Chauncey Billups and 17 from Kevin Durant, dished out a beating to Angola as Uncle Sam’s finest booked a quarter-final place at the FIBA World Championships. Their 121-66 win at the Sinan Erdem Dome in Istanbul will see them face Russia in the last eight on Thursday.

But there are still flaws to be worked out of the Americans if they are to end up as the last team standing on Sunday. And still much tougher tests lie in wait than the African minnows who fought bravely but fared little better than their illustrious predecessors in Barcelona 18 years before.

“We’re moving the ball, making the right plays, penetrating right and playing defence,” said USA and Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. “Without defence, you can’t win the tournament. This gives us confidence as a team. We’re a young team. Anything can happen right now. We can’t be not focused now or anything. We don’t have that experirnce of playing together where we know we’re going to win every game.”

And Rose believes there is one key improvement needed. “Rebound the ball a little bit better. If we do that, we should be all right.”

After a 7-4 start, the USA accelerated out of sight. Durant hit 12 of his points in the first quarter as the favourites built a 33-13 lead despite some poor outside shooting from everyone except Billups, who went 5/7 from 3-point range.

“We started aggressively,” said the Nuggets guard. “It was a good game for us. Sometimes, you make three point shots and I made them today.”

And there was little that their opponents could do except produce the odd moment of excitement for a crowd that was barely half-capacity. Vladimir Jeronimo fed Joaquim Gomes for an alley-oop that produced an enthusiastic cheer but such sparks were few and far between.

Durant hit a three-pointer to lift USA 65-38 in front at half-time and in spite of Gomes’ energetic 21-point haul, Angola faded badly as the Americans went through the motions.When Russell Westbrooks missed a driving dunk that bounced off the rim, he could afford to laugh.

Up 91-56 entering the fourth period, the Americas champions met little resistance. It was not the test they needed or wanted before the business end of this tournament begins. Instead, Mike Krzyzewski threw on his reserves to see out the conclusion. Rudy Gay, who added 17, converted a steal with a one-handed jam that extended the gap to 108-65 with 5:19 left but even his athletic cameo barely received more than a murmur. The Angolans persisted but they now head home.

The gap between them and their storied foes is as big as it ever was.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s hopes of another dream run into the latter stages were ended as Russia exploded in the third quarter to set up a clash with the Americans.

David Blatt’s young side beat the Tall Blacks 78-56 to advance into the last eight.

But there were long spells early on when it looked as if the Kiwis’ pre-game haka had put their rivals off their game.

Skippered by ex-Chester Jets forward Pero Cameron, New Zealand used an early 7-0 run to race in front before Russia closed the gap to 15-13 at the end of the opening quarter.

New Zealand's pre-game haka was to no avail (FIBA)

It became a physical test, a scuffle breaking out as players from both sides wrestled for a loose ball. And as Russia’s shooters found their range, they took the momentum into the interval with a 35-31 lead.

“There were times in the first half where we thought we’d weathered the storm,” said Cameron, who confirmed it would be his last international appearance. “But their defence pushed us into a lot of stuff.

“It’s our third game against them in a month. The first game they killed us by 20. The second in Croatia we were able to win by one in a scrappy game. In this one, we couldn’t run our stuff. We couldn’t hit shots. But their defence pushed us out of our rhythm.”

Ten answered points in the third kept it swinging away and it ultimately proved decisive. Down 51-40 with ten minutes left, New Zealand’s abysmal long-range shooting cost them dear. Although impressive young forward Tom Abercrombie boosted his reputation, Nenad Vucinic’s men could not deal with the athleticism of Russia as they fell as much as 16 behind.

It will feel like a long ride home. But at least they lasted longer than Australia.

“I think we had another game to win,” declared Cameron. “But you can only go on if you win.”

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