MEXICO CITY – Jeff Van Gundy warned the Americans of a serious challenge.
To his chagrin, he was right, and the US suffered a rare loss.
Francisco Cruz scored 24 points For Mexico, which opened with a 18-0 run and beat the United States 78-70 on Thursday night in a qualifier for the next FIBA World Cup.
According to USA Basketball it was only the second loss of the USA in 30 games against Mexico, with the other defeat in the Pan Am Games 2011.
Orlando Mendez-Valdez added 20 points for Mexico, scorching the US in the first 5 minutes and 51 seconds, forcing the Americans to miss their first 10 shots from the field.  "Mexico dominated us from the start, and that's with me," said Van Gundy. "We were not ready to play at the level of Mexico, give them all the credit, they played a great big game."
Marcus Thornton scored 14 points for the US, using a roster consisting mainly of G-League players for the qualifying rounds. Xavier Munford had 11 points and David Stockton and Reggie Hearn 10 each for the Americans.
The US lost for the first time in 10 games under Van Gundy coaching this team, tasked with the NBA stars' team that is being coached by Gregg Popovich for the World Cup.
"We can not underestimate how difficult it will be to play on the road, in height and against a team that is desperately qualifying for the FIBA World Cup," Van Gundy said of the game. "We need to make sure that we are in line with this kind of intensity and passion that we know they will bring."
When the US found her step, she was already in big trouble. Mexico led 31:10 after the first trimester and then saved a big rally in the second half by the United States.
The basket of Trey McKinney-Jones ended the third quarter with a 15-1 run and pulled the USA to 53-51. Thornton made a pair of 3-pointers that were about a minute apart in this series and Hearns 3 Pointer early in Mexico's fourth cut resulted in 56-54.
But the US has never taken the lead.
"In the second half we have reached a high level, and this high level has brought us back into the game, but we just could not get over the point," Van Gundy said.
The Americans (4: 1), who have already secured a place in the second round of qualifying, which begins in September, ends the first round of Sunday's games when they go to Havana to visit Cuba ( 0-5). It is the first time that a US national team has been playing in Havana since the 1991 Pan-American Games. Mexico (3-2) also concludes its first round Sunday when it plays in Puerto Rico (3-2).
David Huertas had 18 points, Angel Rodriguez and JJ Barea each had 15 and Puerto Rico rallied in the fourth quarter in another qualifier Thursday Cuba 84-80
Under the new FIBA qualification format, teams play home games against teams in their region to secure seats at the World Cup in China, which starts on August 8, January 31, 2019. This tournament will qualify seven teams for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
This was the first time that the US played a real street game during this tournament. The Americans opened qualifying in November with an 85-78 victory in a "home game" for Puerto Rico – but the contest was actually played in Orlando, Florida, due to persistent problems in San Juan after Hurricane Maria.
And that was a real street atmosphere.
The game was played not only on Mexico's 7,500 feet, but in a crowded 5,000-seat arena that sold out in just 45 minutes, according to Mexican officials
The Americans turned the ball on each of their first three possessions , and Mexico was in the race.
The USA threw back 36 points in Mexico in November
It was a completely different Mexico
On Thursday night, there were only four Mexican national team players left in uniform, and the team was now able to add the ones played in their various professional leagues and could not participate in the qualifying rounds. Cruz and Mendez-Valdez each had 13 points at half-time, and Gustavo Ayon was a big factor even without big numbers – four points, four rebounds and five assists in the break.
If their names are familiar to American basketball fans, it's for a good reason.
Ayon appeared in 135 NBA games in three seasons with four different franchises and just helped the Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid to win the EuroLeague. Mendez-Valdez was part of the Western Kentucky team that went to Sweet 16 in 2008. The following season he won the Sun Belt Award as Player of the Year. Cruz played in Wyoming and played in professional leagues in Mexico, Latvia, Argentina and Spain.