Spain squeeze into World Cup quarters with no-frills Italy win
Title-contenders Spain produced a devastating late burst to seal a 67-60 victory over Italy and squeeze into the Basketball World Cup quarter-finals on Friday — and take strongly fancied Serbia with them.
Also into the last eight in China are surprise package Poland and Argentina after they overcame Russia and Venezuela respectively.
Juan Hernangomez of the Denver Nuggets led the scoring for Spain with 16 points, but they will have to play better offensively if they are to go much farther in the competition.
Italy’s 60 points was their lowest-scoring game since 1998, according to governing body FIBA, and Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said: “Everyone should give credit to what our players did defensively.
“It says a lot about our togetherness, toughness, commitment.
“It was not our best offensive game, but I give a lot of value to what my players did defensively.”
Scariolo admitted that the Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medallists started sloppily in Wuhan, in what was an occasionally testy second-round affair against their European rivals.
The teams were level 18-18 after the first quarter, only for the Italians to edge ahead by a single point at half-time.
Spain, ranked second in the world behind world and Olympic champions the United States, were a different proposition for most of the third quarter, but saw their initial decent advantage narrowed to just two points going into the fourth.
Italy, ranked 13th, were the underdogs but they refused to lie down and tied the game at 50-50 with a lay-up by Marco Belinelli of NBA team San Antonio Spurs.
The Italians streaked into a four-point lead with four minutes left, as the pressure cranked up another notch.
But Spain and Ricky Rubio were not done, the Phoenix Suns guard getting the freedom of the court to edge ahead by two points once more.
The 28-year-old was increasingly influential when he was needed most.
He made two unerring free throws for a precious 60-56 lead, part of a game-winning 10-0 run for the Spaniards in the closing stages.
– Brilliant Serbia –
Denver Nuggets All-Star Nikola Jokic pulled the strings as formidable Serbia demolished Puerto Rico 90-47 to stand on the brink of the last eight.
Spain’s low-scoring victory later in the day was enough to send the impressive Serbs through but the two countries will still play on Sunday in a mouthwatering match-up for supremacy of the group.
Spain coach Scariolo pointedly refused to answer any questions about the match with Serbia.
Jokic had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and made a sublime laser pass to cut open the Puerto Rico defence, as Serbia began the second-round group phase much as they finished the first.
Sacramento Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica also impressed once more, drilling a leading 18 points.
World and Olympic silver medallists Serbia are in devastating form, comfortably winning all four matches in China and claiming the unofficial title of favourites from holders the United States.