Lithuania, one of the best Olympic men’s basketball nations of the last 25 years, wasn’t able to qualify for the London 2012 Games until 20 days before that Opening Ceremony.
It can rest easy this time around.
The Lithuanians held off reigning World silver medalist Serbia 67-64 in the EuroBasket semifinals Friday to clinch an Olympic berth, more than 10 months before the Rio Opening Ceremony.
Its EuroBasket roster includes Toronto Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas (team-high 15 points against Serbia) and Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis, the son of longtime center Arvydas Sabonis who did not play against Serbia.
Serbia is now in the position Lithuania was four years ago, having to go to a global, last-chance qualifying tournament in July to earn its spot in Rio. France and Canada are also among the nations going to one of three, winner-take-all, last-chance qualifiers.
Lithuania became the eighth nation to qualify for the 12-team Rio Olympic men’s basketball tournament. The field is as follows:
Brazil — Host nation
U.S. — 2014 World champion
Australia — Oceania champion
Nigeria — Africa champion
Argentina — Americas finalist
Venezuela — Americas finalist
Spain — Europe finalist
Lithuania — Europe finalist
Asian champion (October)
Three winners of three July global, last-chance qualifying tournaments
Lithuania lost in five straight Olympic semifinals from 1992 through 2008.
Then it was shocked in the EuroBasket 2011 quarterfinals, falling 67-65 to Macedonia in Kaunas, Lithuania, and being forced to the global, last-chance qualifier in July 2012.
Lithuania qualified for London, reached the 2012 Olympic quarterfinals and lost to eventual bronze medalist Russia. It marked Lithuania’s worst finish at an Olympics after splitting from the Soviet Union and debuting at Barcelona 1992.
Lithuania was one of three nations to beat the U.S. at the Athens 2004 Olympics (Puerto Rico, Argentina) and played the U.S. the closest of any nation at Sydney 2000 (two-point loss) and London 2012 (five-point loss).
The U.S. routed Lithuania by 28 points in the 2014 FIBA World Cup semifinals.
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