Lithuania dumps Serbia in EuroBasket, qualifies for Rio Olympics

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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.

MORE BASKETBALL: Pau Gasol lifts Spain into Rio 2016

U.S. beats Japan in Olympic baseball qualifier, may still need help

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The U.S. handed Japan its first loss in the Premier12 global Olympic baseball qualifier, at the Tokyo Dome no less, but now the Americans must root for the host nation.

The Americans, with a roster mostly of Double-A and Triple-A players, won 4-3 over a Japanese team that includes some of its domestic league’s biggest stars like two-time Central League MVP Yoshihiro Maru and veteran shortstop Hayato Sakamoto.

Outfielder Jo Adell, MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked prospect on the U.S. team, starred by reaching base four times with a home run.

Japan is already qualified for baseball’s Olympic return as the host nation.

The U.S., meanwhile, has a sense of urgency at Premier12, the first of a possible three tournaments in which it could clinch an Olympic spot.

At Premier12, the top-ranked nation from North and South America qualifies for the Olympics. The tournament is at the super-round stage of the final six teams, and two are from the Americas: the U.S. and Mexico.

The top four nations after each has played five games advance to gold- and bronze-medal games.

Mexico already beat the U.S. and ran its super-round record to 3-0 on Tuesday, clinching a spot in the medal round.

The U.S. moved to 1-2 in the super round on Tuesday and must at least get into the same medal-round game as Mexico to keep its hope of finishing as the top team from the Americas.

Japan could help, since it plays Mexico on Wednesday. If Mexico beats Japan, the Mexicans clinch a spot in the gold-medal game, which would put more pressure on the U.S. to win its last two games (vs. Australia on Wednesday and Chinese Taipei on Friday). Even then, South Korea would get into the gold-medal game if it wins out.

If the U.S. is not the top team from the Americas at Premier12, it can still earn an Olympic berth in March. But then it faces trying to come up with a roster at the end of MLB’s spring training rather than during the offseason. MLB teams may be less inclined to release minor leaguers.

“That’ll be a delicate dance,” U.S. general manager Eric Campbell said before Premier12.

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MORE: AL MVP nixes unretirement for Olympic baseball qualifying

College gymnast dies after practice accident

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — An accomplished gymnast at Southern Connecticut State University has died following a serious spinal cord injury suffered in a training accident.

Melanie Coleman, 20, of Milford, Connecticut, was training Friday at New Era Gymnastics in Hamden when she was injured, said her mother, Susan Coleman.

She was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital and died Sunday.

Coleman was a former All State gymnast at Jonathan Law High School in Milford and was captain of the school’s gymnastics team. She was named a Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association Scholastic All-American this year.

Her former club coach, Tom Alberti, said she attained a level 10, the highest level in the USA Junior Olympics Program.

She was a junior studying nursing, following in the footsteps of her two older sisters, her mother said.

“She’s from a very large, loving family; there’s seven of us, we were the Coleman seven,” Susan Coleman said. “We spent every day together for the past 20 years.”

She volunteered at the gym where her accident occurred.

Her coaches and professors described her as a special young woman who excelled in both the classroom and gym, college President Joe Berolino said in a written statement.

“Our deepest sympathies are extended to her family and friends on this tragic loss,” he said.

People the family has met by traveling to gymnastics events around the country are giving support that is “holding us up,” Coleman’s mother said.

She described her children, which also include two sons older than Melanie, as “inseparable.”

“We’re going to leave an empty space in our photos for her” from now on, Susan Coleman said.