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Spain crushes Argentina for FIBA World Cup title

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Spain won its second global title in men’s basketball and its first since 2006, downing Argentina 95-75 in the FIBA World Cup final in China on Sunday.

The Spaniards, who were eliminated from gold-medal contention at the last four Olympics by the U.S. (including in two finals), benefited from the Americans’ early exit last week. The U.S. finished seventh, its worst result ever in a major international tournament, after losses to France and Serbia.

“Whatever is going to be decided or worked out in their house is going to be theirs,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “But it’s an honor to be above them in the final ranking. I’m expecting them so strong next year.”

But Spain had its own challenge. Its stalwart, Pau Gasol, missed the World Cup due to left foot surgery (and wrote a motivational, thank-you letter to the team before the final). Other veterans from those Olympic silver-medal teams, including Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro, have moved on.

“It’s just amazing how the whole tournament has been us as a team,” guard Ricky Rubio said. “You can tell, we weren’t the most talented team. We weren’t the bigger team. … We were the team who has the big heart.”

This team, led by all-tournament players Marc Gasol and Rubio, played a turn-back-the-clock final against Argentina, which has one player left from its Golden Generation — 39-year-old Luis Scola.

Both Scola and Argentina’s other go-to man, point guard Facundo Campazzo, were stymied into a combined 3-of-21 shooting.

A full box score is here.

Now Spain will go to Tokyo seeking a first Olympic title after silver or bronze medals at the last three Games. Can a Spanish team, hopefully with Pau Gasol back, take on what will be a U.S. roster with the NBA superstars it lacked in China? Marc Gasol said he wasn’t sure if the brothers will be in Tokyo.

“At this point of the career, you don’t know,” he said. “You want to be there. You hope to be there. But you don’t make any promises.”

Earlier Sunday, France beat Australia 67-59 in the third-place game, denying the Aussies their first Olympic or world medal.

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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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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.”

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