Spain edges Greece, advances to play for gold medal

Sep 15, 2007 - 8:35 PM By Cindy Garcia-Bennett Special to PA SportsTicker

MADRID, Spain (Ticker) -- Spain was pushed to the limit but the world champions held on for an 82-77 victory over Greece to reach the gold-medal game at EuroBasket 2007.

In a rematch of last year's gold-medal contest at the FIBA World Championship in Japan, the Spanish trailed by two points midway through the final quarter.

But Toronto Raptors star Jose Calderon buried a 3-pointer from the left corner to regain the lead. And new Memphis Grizzlies signing Juan Carlos Navarro followed with an off-balance layup for a 70-67 lead with 3:31 remaining.

Greece stayed close, but Spain led for the remainder of the game.

Jorge Garbajosa - the Raptors power forward who almost missed the EuroBasket after suffering a serious injury to his ankle and fibula at the end of March - had six points, five rebounds and two assists.

"It was a very tough, physical game," Garbajosa said to PA SportsTicker. "We knew it was going to be like this because it was against a great rival. Greece are defending European champions, and whoever thought it was going to be easy, they were mistaken."

His two biggest points came with 18 seconds remaining.

Nikos Zisis had just made a 3-pointer to close the gap to 78-76, and Garbajosa was fouled on the in-bounds play. He walked to the stripe and made both free throws for an 80-76 lead.

Greece hurried the ball up the floor, and Theo Papaloukas drove into the lane but lost control of the ball out of bounds for a turnover.

Navarro added two more free throws to give him 23 points for Spain.

Tempers flared at the end of the third quarter when Navarro drove into the lane and attempted a layup, only to be blocked by Dimitris Diamantidis.

The two players exchanged angry words, Navarro pushed Diamantidis and the Greek guard then bumped Navarro with his chest before the two were separated.

With 8:57 remaining in the game, Calderon and Konstantinos Tsartsaris also became involved in an altercation.

Calderon was standing at the top of the key in front of Spain's bench after Navarro had drilled a 3-pointer. As Tsartsaris ran up the floor, he leaned into Calderon and the guard fell to the court, looking in obvious pain.

Both team's players ran to the spot, Tsartaris pushed away Garbajosa and the referee called an unsportsmanlike foul on the Greek. Garbajosa made both free throws to lead 64-60.

"They (Greece) came here after yesterday's win with a lot of confidence and they've made us suffer," Garbajosa said. "But through that suffering, we've shown a lot of character."

Greece captain Michail Kakiouzis was proud of his team.

"We played our best game up to now in this tournament," he said. "We tried to play basketball, but I'd rather not talk about the referees. The referees are OK, they're always trying to help somebody.

"We had a chance to win the game but, in the end, Spain made their free throws."

Earlier Saturday, Dirk Nowitzki and Germany struggled but finally came around late in the second half to beat Slovenia, 69-65, on Saturday to secure a place in next year's pre-Olympic qualifying tournament.

Nowitzki scored a game-high 28 points on 9-of-25 shooting from the field, including 3-of-11 from the arc, and also pulled down 10 rebounds.

The loss for Slovenia means they must now beat France on Sunday in the battle for seventh place, with the victors of that game also taking a place in the pre-Olympic tournament.

Thrashed by Slovenia in the qualifying round by 30 points and also brushed aside by Spain in the quarterfinals, the Germans found themselves trailing 60-51 with 5:16 remaining but after a timeout, Demond Green sparked a 15-3 run with one of his three 3-pointers.

That surge was enough to propel them to victory.

"We came here hoping to accomplish more, but at least we've made it to the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament," said Germany's Johannes Herber, a former standout with the West Virginia Mountaineers.

A Nowitzki 3-pointer tied the game at 62-62 with 1:56 remaining in the contest.

After Jaka Lakovic split two from the free throw line, Steffen Hamann dribbled into the lane and no Slovenia player picked him up, allowing him to score the easiest of lay-ups with 50 seconds left to put the Germans in front for good.

Following Goran Jagodnik's turnover for Slovenia, Nowitzki buried a jump shot to give Germany a 66-63 lead.

Slovenia, having blown a 16-point fourth-quarter advantage to Greece less than 24 hours before in their quarterfinal, hoped to recover.

But Domen Lorbek, with just seven seconds left, made the second of two free throws.

Slovenia fouled Nowitzki, who split two at the stripe before Germany fouled Lakovic.

The point guard made the first with three seconds left, but intentionally missed the second.

Slovenia was called for stepping into the lane too early, and possession went to Germany with Nowitzki making two more free throws for the final score.

"Now we have to face France tomorrow," said Slovenia captain Rasho Nestoveric, who finished with 13 points and 9 rebounds.

"I don't know if we're going to make it, but we're certainly going to give it everything we've got."

Croatia bounced back from their narrow quarter-final defeat to Lithuania by beating France 86-69 to clinch a place in next year's pre-Olympic qualifying tournament.

Edged 74-72 on Friday by Lithuania, coach Jasmin Repesa told his players to forget the loss and focus on beating France to make certain of leaving Madrid with a chance of playing at the Beijing Games.

While they will now take on the winners of Germany's classification game with Slovenia in a battle for fifth place, Saturday's victory is the one that matters.

Marko Popovic hit back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the third quarter after an 11-0 run by France had pulled Les Bleus to within 47-42.

"We all had a role in the team and it was difficult because of yesterday's painful defeat" Popovic said. "But unlike yesterday, when we ran out of energy mentally and physically in the last minutes of the game, today we held on.

"This is a big deal for us because we came here, wanting to clinch a place in the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament and we've done it."

France must now finish seventh to reach the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament. They will take on the losers of the Germany/Slovenia game.

Croatia were successful in the first half because they got the ball inside to their big men Stanko Barac and Nikola Prkacin.

The duo combined for 22 points in the first two quarters, with Prkacin a particularly effective 6-of-6 from the floor.

They led 47-31 at halftime, but France returned the court for the third quarter and went on that 11-0 run that was capped by a pair of Tony Parker baskets to close the gap to five.

Popovic, Croatia's leading scorer in this tournament, came to the rescue with the two 3-pointers.

He would finish with 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the arc.

"I don't know what happened to us in the second half," France captain Boris Diaw said. "I don't know why we weren't able to put them under pressure.

"We tried to react, but when we did it was too late. Now we have to look at tomorrow's game knowing fully well that it's the last chance to go to the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament and we must get everyone in the team motivated for tomorrow's game."

Spain, as world champions, have already qualifying for the Beijing Games.

The next two highest-placed teams at the EuroBasket will join them, while the following four placed teams will enter the pre-Olympic tournament.






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