US, Argentina, Spain, Russia make basketball semis
LONDON - Defending champions United States will play 2004 gold medalists Argentina and reigning European kings Spain will meet Russia in the Olympic men's basketball semi-finals after triumphs on Wednesday.
The NBA "Dream Team" advanced by beating Australia 119-86 while Argentina, who upset the Americans in the 2004 Olympics semi-finals but lost to them in the 2008 semis, reached the final four by beating arch-rival Brazil 82-77.
"If we have a one percent chance to beat them, we will give our best to make it happen," Argentine NBA sharpshooter Carlos Delfino said.
Australia scored the first 11 points of the second half against the US stars to pull within 56-53 but Kobe Bryant, who led the US with 20 points, hit three three-pointers in a row in 31 final-quarter seconds to seal the triumph.
Spain ousted France 66-59 and Russia downed Lithuania 83-74 to book their spots in Friday's other semi-final matchup. Russia could claim an Olympic medal under their own flag for the first time since the break-up of the Soviet Union.
"This is a big step for our country and our basketball," said Russia captain Sergey Monya. "I think we deserve this."
Both semi-finals will be rematches of earlier round-robin matches. The US multi-millionaire lineup ripped Argentina 126-97 but the South American side will not make major changes in strategy, just try to implement it better.
"We are going to try the same approach -- turn over the ball less, don't let them run," Argentine NBA playmaker Manu Ginobili said. "Still then, Kobe Bryant can come and score 23, but we have to fight hard."
Russia defeated Spain 77-74 in group play after the Spaniards jumped ahead 20-2 to start the game. Spanish coach Sergio Scariolo liked what he did last time as well but said he and the team must adapt better when Russia adjusts.
"The game plan can be the same but we have to react to their reaction and be ready to come up with something whatever they do," Scariolo said. "You have to be ready for any situation."
Luis Scola scored 17 points while Delfino and Ginobili each added 16 for Argentina, who withstood a late 10-0 Brazil run to within 70-68 as the top-scoring trio sank free throws in the final seconds.
"This is unbelievable," Ginobili said. "Beating Brazil is always special and this time is even better because now we have two chances to fight for a medal."
Marcelinho Huertas and Leandrinho Barbosa led Brazil, each with 22 points.
"We gave everything on the court," Barbosa said. "We did everything we could."
Spain's Marc Gasol scored 14 points and Pau Gasol added 10 points and 11 rebounds to spark Spain over France. Hard fouls on Spain's Rudy Fernandez and Juan-Carlos Navarro in the final seconds nearly saw players come to blows.
"I understand the frustration of a team that loses to us all the time," Spain's Pau Gasol said.
French players took issue with Spain's late collapse in a group loss to Brazil that drew them against France rather than in the side of the draw, with the United States.
"I'm angry. We deserve it. We deserve it much more than them," Nicolas Batum said. "They lost the last match on purpose."
Beijing Olympic runner-up Spain has been inconsistent but expects its best outing yet against Russia after a 12-0 run in the fourth quarter where France went scoreless for almost seven minutes.
"It's going to be a battle of wills in the semi-finals," Marc Gasol said. "We're still growing. We have a lot of confidence we will find our game. We still have room to grow but that was a big game for us."
Andrei Kirilenko scored 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and Timofey Mozgov added 17 points to spark Russia's victory over Lithuania, which had played for bronze in the past five Olympics.
"That was a boxing match. I'm glad we were able to finish ahead on points," Russian coach Dave Blatt said. "I would love to win a medal and be part of history for Russian basketball." - Rappler.com
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