A first-round men's basketball match-up between the United States and Panama has been among the peculiarities of the Pan American Games. The contest was close throughout much of the first half, but you sensed it wouldn't remain that way, not with a potent US team facing what amounted to the Briar Cliff College all-stars. Briar Cliff is a small Roman Catholic school in Sioux City, Iowa, that has turned into a pipeline for Panamanian players, including seven members of the current national team who either graduated or still go there. Among them are Rolando Frazier, a three-time National Associatioin of Intercollegiate Athletics All-American (1979-'80-'81) and Mario G'alvez, who gained similar honors in '84 and '86. They and their countrymen helped the school earn seven NAIA district titles in 11 years.
Still, as exected, the Panamanians ultimately proved no match for a US squad loaded with major-college stars such as Navy seven-footer David Robinson and Keith Smart and Dean Garrett of Indiana's NCAA champions.
Near the end, Brooklyn-born coach Jim Boran of St. St. Francis (Pa.) College, who moonlights as Panama's coach, was trying to keep his team from getting obliterated by its fast-breaking foes. The final was 91-63.
Boran, incidentally, gives instructions in English, but his bilingual players call out plays in Spanish.
Mario Butler, the team's rugged 30-year-old center, gleaned some consolation from outscoring Uncle Sam's celebrated pivotman, 15 to 11. But, of course, Butler enjoyed a motivational edge. ``I was more up for Robinson maybe than he was for me,'' he noted.
Although the US may not be quite as invincible in international basketball as it once was, the men's team has remained virtually untouchable in Pan Am competition. It has won 30 straight games dating back to 1970, when the US lost to Brazil and failed to capture the gold for the only time in nine previous Pan Am tournaments. Over the years, the team's average margin of victory has been a whopping 29 points.
The women haven't found things nearly as easy, but are expected to defend their title here as well. Their biggest test should come Saturday against Brazil, whose star player, Hortencia Marcari, once scored 46 points while being guarded by American Cheryl Miller, maybe the world's best all-around female player. Miller is recovering from an injury and unable to participate in these games. Here and there
Even with some top stars off at the Pan-Pacific meet in Australia, US swimmers were expected to mop up here. The big winner so far, however, is Costa Rica's Silvia Poll. Using her powerful 6 ft. 2 in. frame to maximum advantage, Poll won the 100- and 200-meter freestyle events and the 100-meter backstroke, and also anchored her country to a silver in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay. As if to add insult to injury, the 16-year-old phenom, whose parents are German, has turned down scholarship offers from American colleges and says, ``Maybe US swimmers should come to Costa Rica to improve.''
Suriname's Anthony Nesty produced the most surprising result in men's swimming, winning the 100-meter butterfly for his country's first gold. Nesty has polished his stroke as a high school swimmer in Jacksonville, Fla., and plans to enroll at the University of Florida in the fall.
When US softball player Jim Clark belted a grand slam the other night, he was a firsthand witness to a very sporting gesture by the Argentine infielders, who gave him high-fives as he circled the bases. The US won 9-0 behind Vaughn Alvey's 49th career no-hitter.