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Argentina upsets Olympic silver medalist Serbia in FIBA World Cup quarterfinals

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The glory days of the Golden Generation are now more than a decade in the rearview, but El Alma Argentina can still play at the highest level.

Argentina knocked out Olympic and world silver medalist Serbia 97-87 in the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals in China on Tuesday, advancing to a Friday semifinal against Wednesday’s U.S.-France winner.

Longtime NBA forward Luis Scola is the only man on Argentina’s roster who was part of its past Olympic and world success — the biggest being an Olympic gold in 2004, the only time the U.S. hasn’t taken the title in the Dream Team era.

Argentina declined in the previous Olympic cycle, exiting the 2014 World Cup in the round of 16 and the Rio Olympics in the quarterfinals (to the U.S., after losing twice in group play). Stalwarts Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni retired from the national team. Carlos Delfino hasn’t played for it since, either.

Scola, a 39-year-old who could become the second-oldest Olympic basketball player in history next year, starred on Tuesday with 20 points. Argentina shot 54 percent overall, compared to 42 percent for Serbia. Point guard Facundo Campazzo had 18 points, 12 assists and six rebounds. A full box score is here.

“Campazzo absolutely dominating the game,” Serbian coach Aleksandar Đordevic said. “This is really his victory. Scola is their emotional leader and maybe one of the biggest legends of all times in basketball, and he really picked up their winning ability.”

MInutes after, Scola had already become frustrated with media declaring it an upset.

“It just bothers me that people keep talking about miracle and keep talking about surprise, keep talking about, people, nobody believing,” Scola said in the mixed zone. “I tell you, there was 22 people that believed from the last two months that we were going to be here. That’s all we need. Just 22. We’ve got them, and we believe this is far from a miracle.”

Scola now plays in the Chinese league. Nobody on the team plays in the NBA, making it the first Olympic or World Cup semifinalist without an NBA player since Greece in 2006. In fact, last season was the first in the league without any Argentine players seeing a minute of game action since 2001-02.

The Serbians, paced by Denver Nuggets All-Star Nikola Jokić, could now be relegated to a last-chance qualifying tournament next year to get into the Tokyo Olympics.

“I want to apologize to our people, our country, who believe in us,” Sacramento Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica said. “Maybe we were a better team than Argentina, but they showed us and they wanted this victory more than us.

“We weren’t ready for this game, mentally. … I played like s—.”

Surprising, given they were the world’s second-best team in the last Olympic cycle. Serbia overcame 2-3 group-play records at both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics to reach finals against the U.S., where they were soundly beaten by a combined 67 points. It’s no secret this U.S. roster lacks superstars. Serbia’s outlook became even brighter when the Americans eked out a one-point overtime win over 17th-ranked Turkey last week.

Now, Serbia must hope that the U.S. beats France and that Australia beats the Czech Republic in Wednesday’s quarters.

In that scenario, the consolation-round games will determine an Olympic qualifier out of Europe among Serbia, France, the Czech Republic and Poland, which lost to Spain in Tuesday’s later quarterfinal.

“You can see through [Bjelica’s] words what kind of mental pressure these guys were through all this tournament and before,” Dordevic said. “It was euphoria in our country. Everybody followed us. Everybody gave us a hand. Everybody really was eager to see us play in this tournament. We became favorites just like that. Everybody was writing, not only in our papers but everywhere around the world, that we are the team. We are the ones. We will win. This and that. That kind of thing, sometimes, does not help, but on the contrary. From his saying now I understand what kind of pressure he’s been through.”

Argentina already qualified for Tokyo as one of the top two Americas teams at the World Cup, along with the U.S. Now it eyes its first global medal since 2008.

“We are not big. We are not athletic. So we need to play really smart.” coach Sergio Hernandez said. “[Scola] is the man. We follow him.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup schedule, results

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With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Maddie Bowman, first Olympic ski halfpipe champion, ends competitive career

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Maddie Bowman knows she has been very fortunate. She just turned 26 years old and has already accomplished everything she wanted in her sport, halfpipe skiing.

Bowman, who won the event’s Olympic debut in Sochi in 2014, recently decided to retire from competition.

“I’ve really given the sport everything I could that was positive, and I knew the sport would be in great hands when I walked away,” she said. “So I decided it was my time to be done.

“I just felt like I couldn’t give anything else to the sport because I was a little bit afraid [of injury], but also it’s mentally exhausting. It drained my mental health for sure, but I loved doing it, and I still love skiing. Competition just isn’t for me anymore.”

The decision weighed on the South Lake Tahoe native last season. She competed at the Winter X Games for the last time, taking fifth place. She earned medals each of the previous seven years, including five golds, despite undergoing two major knee surgeries in that span.

“I was thinking [last year] that this is really hard, and I don’t know if I want to keep doing this,” she said. “It was really hard for me to get into the right mental state again. It’s painful. My knees hurt, but I was torn. I was torn between wanting to walk away and the love I had for the people I was around, people I competed against and just the lifestyle. I worked really hard on opening up other doors for myself besides skiing, which is making my transition a lot smoother.”

Those opportunities include activism, spreading awareness around climate change for Protect Our Winters. Bowman wants to finish her college degree and teach high school biology and health. She aims to continue public speaking regarding motivational talks and mental health.

Bowman struggled with depression between the Sochi and PyeongChang Olympics. She is equally proud of her second Olympic performance — finishing 11th in South Korea — as her landmark gold medal in Russia. While in PyeongChang, she believed it would likely be her last Olympics.

“I had doubts if I would even make it to PyeongChang, and making it there was one of my huge accomplishments,” Bowman said. “It was such a special event. Even though I only got 11th, I skied my freakin’ heart out. I gave it everything I had.”

Bowman, the daughter of two former professional skiers, took gold in Sochi as the youngest finalist. She landed back-to-back 900s for the first time in her career (by accident after having to improvise her opening run). She did so in front of family that included 78-year-old Lorna Perpall, who wore a T-shirt that read “badass grandma.”

Afterward, Bowman spoke about friend Sarah Burke, the Canadian ski halfpipe pioneer who died after a training accident in 2012.

“It means so much for us to be able to show the world what our sport is,” Bowman said that night in Russia. “She’s here with us.

“I sure hope I, and everyone else, made her proud because we would not be here without her.”

Bowman has her own place in history. No matter how long ski halfpipe is in the Olympics, she will always be the first woman to earn gold.

“I know as our sport gets more solidified into the Olympic Games, it can become pretty national, cutthroat and competitive,” she said. “I would love to see it stay this free-spirited work of art, something beautiful like that.”

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MORE: Torah Bright, Olympic champion, no longer competing in halfpipe