Argentina, Mexico move close to Olympic men’s basketball berths

Luis Scola
AP
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Argentina or Mexico will clinch an Olympic men’s basketball berth with a victory in the FIBA Americas semifinals Friday, which would mark Argentina’s fourth straight trip to the Games and Mexico’s first since 1976.

The two nations are the only undefeateds at FIBA Americas, hosted by Mexico, and on Monday clinched two of the four semifinal spots.

Their games Tuesday will go a long way in determining their semifinal opponents. Argentina plays fourth-place Dominican Republic, while Mexico plays third-place Canada.

There are also group-play games Wednesday, after which the semifinal matchups will be known.

Argentina is playing without stalwart Manu Ginobili at FIBA Americas. The 38-year-old Ginobili, who led the team to Athens 2004 Olympic gold (beating the U.S. in the semifinals), reportedly said in March he’s 98 percent sure he’s finished playing for the Argentina national team.

One of Ginobili’s 2004 Olympic champion teammates is leading Argentina in FIBA Americas. That’s Luis Scola, the 35-year-old forward for the Toronto Raptors. Scola had 26 points and 13 rebounds in a win over Uruguay on Monday.

Argentina’s roster also includes 2004 Olympic champion Andres Nocioni, a 35-year-old former NBA forward who now plays professionally in Spain.

Argentina has placed no lower than fourth in each of the last three Olympic basketball tournaments, playing the U.S. in the semifinals each time.

Mexico’s roster includes one NBA player, Milwaukee Bucks backup point guard Jorge Gutierrez, plus former NBA big man Gustavo Ayon.

Mexico reached the FIBA Americas semifinals for the first time, four years after it wasn’t even qualified to play in the 10-team Olympic qualifying tournament. In 2013, it didn’t qualify, either, but made it in when Panama was suspended and excluded from the tournament. Mexico went on to win the 2013 FIBA Americas and then was thumped by the U.S. by 23 points in the 2014 FIBA World Cup round of 16.

Notably, Mexico has yet to face Argentina or Canada at FIBA Americas. Argentina and Canada came into the tournament as arguably the favorites to secure the two Olympic berths available.

Mexico won bronze in the first Olympic basketball tournament at Berlin 1936 with zero medals since and zero appearances since 1976.

The FIBA Americas semifinals losers, plus the fifth-place team, will advance to a global, last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in July.

The U.S., Brazil, Australia and Nigeria have already booked spots in the 12-team Olympic men’s basketball tournament.

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