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Spain, Argentina turn back the clock to meet for FIBA World Cup title

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It’s been seven years since Spain’s men’s basketball team last played for a global title. For Argentina, it was 15 years ago.

After favorites U.S. and Serbia exited the FIBA World Cup early, it’s two of Team USA’s old rivals that will play for the championship in China on Sunday.

Spain overtook Australia 95-88 in two overtimes to reach its first Olympic or world final since the 2012 London Games. The Spaniards, led by Marc Gasol‘s 33 points, rallied from an 11-point third-quarter deficit. A full box score is here.

In Friday’s later semifinal, Argentina doused France 80-66 behind 39-year-old Luis Scola, the last remaining link to its 2004 Olympic title team. Scola had 28 points and 13 rebounds and received an “M-V-P” chant from teammates in the locker room. A full box score is here.

Athens 2004 was the last time Argentina advanced this far at an Olympics or worlds. Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni retired after the Rio Olympics, where the Argentine Golden Generation bowed out in the quarterfinals.

Spain followed Argentina as the world’s dominant basketball nation, aside from the U.S., in the 2000s.

Spain captured the 2006 World Cup and then lost two straight Olympic finals to the Americans. Its current roster is missing some of those now-retired stars. Its stalwart, 39-year-old Pau Gasol, is out after left foot surgery.

“Now it’s our turn to pass on the legacy to the next generation,” 34-year-old Marc Gasol said.

Australia just missed clinching its first Olympic or world medal. NBA veteran Matthew Dellavedova missed a one-handed running floater as time expired in the first overtime. San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills had game highs of 34 points and 45 minutes played.

The Aussies can still reach that first podium in Sunday’s bronze-medal game against France.

“The experience we had in Rio and the feeling of what it felt like to finish fourth when we had a chance to win a bronze and seeing how much that hurt everybody … I have the confidence that this group will be able to refocus,” Australia coach Andrej Lemanis said.

NBC Olympics senior researcher Rachel Thompson contributed to this report from China.

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Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

“It doesn’t beat doing it here. I’ve been working hard,” Ford, in his 86th World Cup start dating to 2009, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “No secret, just kept it simple and really trusted what I was doing.”

Norwegians Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen were second and third. American Ted Ligety, fourth after the opening run, finished 11th.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment.

He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, the Oregon native and former Dartmouth student had a pair of fifths.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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