Dirk Nowitzki, Germany suffer heartbreaking loss in bid to KO Spain from Olympic qualifying

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Dirk Nowitzki and Germany nearly eliminated two-time reigning Olympic silver medalist Spain from Olympic men’s basketball qualifying, falling 77-76 at EuroBasket in Berlin on Thursday.

The Germans rallied from deficits of 13 points with 6:37 left and seven points with 56 seconds left of the group-play game that ended up being an elimination game.

The winner would advance to the European Olympic qualifying tournament round of 16. The loser would not only be done at EuroBasket, but also not finish in third through seventh place overall, which is necessary for an automatic berth in the global, last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in July.

The top two at EuroBasket earn spots in the 12-team 2016 Olympic basketball tournament.

Down 77-74 on Thursday, Germany and Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroeder was fouled while shooting a three-pointer with three seconds left. He made the first two free throws but missed the third that would have likely sent the game to overtime.

The loss is widely viewed as Dirk Nowitzki‘s final international game, though Germany could be awarded one of three wild-card places in the global, last-chance tournament in July by FIBA.

Preference for those wild-card places is expected to be given to higher-placing teams in continental Olympic qualifiers, though. Germany’s finish outside the top 16 in EuroBasket will not help its case, if it makes one.

This asterisk is why a Spain loss to Germany might not have derailed its Olympic hopes entirely, and why reigning Olympic bronze medalist Russia may also get a second chance to qualify for Rio after it was eliminated in EuroBasket group play.

Nowitzki, 37, led Germany at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, where it failed to reach the quarterfinals in its only Olympic appearance since 1992. Nowitzki memorably shaved the Olympic rings into the side of his hair before the Games and carried the German flag in the Opening Ceremony.

After the game, Nowitzki was given a standing ovation by the Berlin arena crowd (video here).

Spain survived and advanced without four of its star NBA players — Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Serge Ibaka and Jose Calderon — all sitting out EuroBasket for various reasons but who could return for the Rio Olympics. Its only stalwart on the EuroBasket roster is Pau Gasol.

Spain’s road to Olympic qualification at EuroBasket will not get easier. It is in the same half of the knockout bracket as undefeated France, whose roster includes NBA players Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw and Rudy Gobert.

Spain and France could meet in the semifinals next Thursday with the winner receiving an Olympic berth and the loser forced to the global, last-chance qualifying tournament in July.

France beat Spain 65-52 in the 2014 FIBA World Cup quarterfinals, a tournament won by the U.S. to clinch the first Rio 2016 Olympic berth. Brazil, Australia and Nigeria have since been added to the Olympic field, with two more teams to join them from FIBA Americas on Friday.

The other half of the EuroBasket round of 16 bracket includes reigning World silver medalist Serbia and Lithuania, a traditional power that finished fourth at Worlds in 2014.

EuroBasket schedule and standings are available here.

MORE BASKETBALL: Five Olympic questions with Steve Nash

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Chock, Bates charge to second U.S. title; Hubbell, Donohue charge the wrong way

Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue
AP
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Evan Bates, who had just won his second U.S. ice dance title with partner Madison Chock, put it best.

“Ice dance is a strange sport in some ways,” he said.

Chock and Bates have had their share of unusual mishaps in their near 10-year career, but on Saturday night at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, everything was smooth sailing.

The couple’s exotic “Egyptian Snake Dance” free dance went off without a hitch, gaining the highest possible levels for nearly all of its elements and impressing judges with its intricacy, synchronization and striking lifts. It earned 134.23 points, giving the Montreal-based team the win with 221.86.

“It was (our coach Marie-France Dubreuil’s) idea for me to be a snake, and Evan a traveler who finds me,” Chock said of the routine. “It was just such a fun process, cool new characters for us to dive into, and we’ve really been enjoying it. It shows when we skate.”

Greensboro has been lucky for the skaters, who teamed up in 2011; they won their first U.S. title here in 2015. The five-year title gap is the longest in history for U.S. ice dance champions.

“It feels longer than five years,” Chock said with a breezy laugh. “It feels so much has changed, and in us as people as well (as dancers). We’re in a very good place, we could not be happier with the way the season has been going.”

If Chock’s humor was lighthearted, Madison Hubbell’s can only be described grim.

Hubbell and her partner, Zach Donohue, trailed their long-time rivals and Montreal training partners by about 1.3 points following Friday’s rhythm dance. A stellar outing of their Star is Born free dance might have won a third consecutive U.S. title; instead, it became a living nightmare.

“Out of the first element, the dance spin, we got turned around somehow and came out the wrong direction,” Hubbell said. “The next four elements, which are pretty valuable elements, all were facing the wrong direction.”

(Video available here for NBC Sports Gold subscribers; Hubbell and Donohue skate at the 1:06:50 mark.)

Not until their fifth element, a step sequence, did the skaters get back on track. In between, there was a world of hurt, likely unnoticed by many members of the audience but readily apparent to the judges, who had seen the free dance in  practice.

“Our twizzle sequence, it’s a high-scoring element, is supposed to charge right at the judges, and today it charged away from them,” Hubbell said. “In the rotational life, there’s a large leg flare that looks very cool going the opposite direction, and today I just opened my crotch right in front of the judges.”

The score was far from disastrous; Hubbell and Donohue’s 130.88 points for their “wrong-way” free dance gave them 217.19 overall. But it was a missed opportunity to show judges, and fans, the improvements they had made to A Star Is Born since the Grand Prix Final in December.

“It was probably one of the hardest performances, and not the most enjoyable,” Hubbell said. “It was a really thoughtful focus on the elements, and somehow putting one portion of the brain aside to fix things as best we could.”

The silver medal was Hubbell and Donohue’s first. They also won bronze medals in 2012, and 2015-17.

Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, whose rhythm dance to Saturday Night Fever stole the show on Friday, felt their Flamenco-style free dance didn’t pack the same punch.

“Yesterday was such a high for us, in terms of (audience) reaction and performance, that tonight didn’t have the same euphoria when we finished,” Hawayek said. “Both Jean-Luc and I see the potential for it being much higher than what we were able to put out today.”

Despite the disappointment, the third team in the Montreal troika earned 118.57 points and won a second consecutive bronze medal with 201.16.

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Coco Gauff eliminated from Australian Open by Sofia Kenin

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Coco Gauff‘s run at the Australian Open ended in the round of 16, foiled by fellow American Sofia Kenin on Sunday.

Kenin ousted the 15-year-old phenom 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Gauff, too, was bidding for her first major quarterfinal after a sterling seven months ignited by her march to the Wimbledon fourth round.

Gauff, ranked No. 684 this time last year, will near the top 50 after the Australian Open. She beat Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon and the Australian Open and took out defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka in the third round on Friday.

Gauff’s play catapulted her to fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying, but she has half the points as fourth-place Madison Keys, and a country can’t qualify more than four players in singles. The Olympic field will be determined by the WTA rankings after the French Open in June.

The 14th seed Kenin, who beat Serena Williams in the 2019 French Open third round, ranks second behind Williams in U.S. Olympic qualifying. She will face No. 27 Wang Qiang or Ons Jabeur in the quarterfinals.

Kenin and Alison Riske are the two remaining U.S. women in the draw.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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