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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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U.S. upset by France at FIBA World Cup, first major loss in 13 years

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The U.S. men’s basketball team suffered its first global tournament loss in 13 years, beaten by France 89-79 in the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday.

The U.S., which was bidding for the first World Cup three-peat but without any NBA superstars, will leave worlds in China without a medal.

“It’s not about, well, the United States didn’t have their other guys,” said U.S. coach Gregg Popovich, at his first tournament since succeeding Mike Krzyzewski. “There’s no such thing as other guys. These are the guys that were here.

“It’s also a disrespectful notion to even bring something like that up, that, hey you guys didn’t have this guy and that guy. That’s disrespectful to France or whoever else is in the tournament. France beat us. It doesn’t matter who was on the team.”

The Americans had won 58 straight games with NBA players among the Olympics, World Cup and FIBA Americas since its last defeat in the 2006 World Cup semifinals to Greece.

The Americans, led by Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (29 points), battled back from a 10-point, third-quarter deficit to lead by seven early in the fourth.

But France, with Rudy Gobert (21 points, 16 rebounds), went on an 11-point run in the fourth to retake the lead and advance to a Friday semifinal against Argentina. A full box score is here.

“I don’t know how to describe,” Gobert said on ESPN2 of France’s first-ever win over the U.S. after nine losses between the Olympics and worlds and 21 losses when including the U17, U19 and World University Games levels. “I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time. … It’s probably the kind of game you’re going to talk about in 20 years. We’ve got to take it all in.”

Spain gets Australia in the other semifinal. Spain and France clinched 2020 Olympic spots as the last two remaining European teams, making it eight teams qualified so far for the tournament. The others are Japan, Australia, Iran, Nigeria, the U.S. and Argentina.

MORE: Every U.S. loss since the Dream Team

This U.S. team was deemed vulnerable after every NBA superstar withdrew from World Cup roster consideration.

What was left was a roster with two 2019 NBA All-Stars (Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton) and one player with Olympic experience (Harrison Barnes).

“You guys are going to go on and say who we didn’t have, but why don’t you all focus on who we do have?” Mitchell said. “We came ready to work for coach Pop.”

Walker, the team leader in the backcourt, struggled Wednesday with twice as many turnovers as made field goals (2 for 9). The Americans also got beat in the paint, outrebounded 44-28.

“Of course, people are going to say it was a big upset because of who we are and what this team has done in the past,” Walker said.

The concern for this team was first confirmed with a pre-tournament loss to Australia, snapping a 78-game win streak with NBA players when including exhibitions. Then tested again in group play last week, when the U.S. eked past 17th-ranked Turkey by one point in overtime.

The U.S., which qualified for the 2020 Olympics by advancing out of group play, was due for a step up in competition by starting knockout play against France.

The French have five NBA players, including Gobert, Evan Fournier and Nicolas Batum. They challenged the Americans at the Rio Olympics, losing 100-97 in group play.

The U.S. plays Serbia in a consolation-round game Thursday in a rematch of the Rio Olympic final.

“Any loss hurts,” Popovich said. “This situation, it hurts more.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup schedule, results

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Julian Alaphilippe wins Tour de France Stage 3, takes yellow jersey

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EPERNAY, France (AP) — He was sweating, baked by the sun, and burning through his energy reserves. But, under the intense pressure of being pursued by the chasing pack of riders at the Tour de France, Julian Alaphilippe also stayed as cool as a chilled glass of Champagne.

The French rider’s sparkling and poised Stage 3 ride on Monday into Epernay, the Champagne town that exports bubbly worldwide, delivered a first victory for France at this Tour and the country’s first yellow jersey since 2014 when Tony Gallopin held the race lead for one day.

The manner of Alaphilippe’s win — surprising other pretenders for the stage victory with a devastating burst of speed on a sharp climb and then gritting his teeth as he rode solo to the finish — oozed what the French call “panache,” or pure class.

He’d long targeted the stage, with its final section of sharp hills among the Champagne vineyards, as suiting his explosive strengths, and executed his plan to perfection.

Cheered on by thick roadside crowds, Alaphilippe delivered the decisive blow on the Cote de Mutigny, the steepest of four notable hill climbs heading toward Epernay.

“I did exactly what I’d planned to do,” he said. “When it works, you have to savor it.”

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Jumping out of the saddle to hammer on his pedals up the final part of the 12% incline, Alaphilippe caught other riders cold.

“A very strong attack. I was surprised,” said Peter Sagan, the equally explosive Slovak who’d also been eyeing the stage to add to his collection of 11 career stage victories at the Tour.

But as the pack then reacted and laid chase, eating into his meager lead of around half a minute, victory for Alaphilippe was by no means guaranteed.

Tongue lolling in the heat, the leader of the Deceuninck-Quick Step team kept his pursuers at bay for 16 long and lonely kilometers (10 miles), speeding alone up Epernay’s cobbled Champagne Avenue heaving with sun-baked fans to the lung-busting uphill finish.

By the time he sped past a statue of Dom Perignon, a monk who lent his name to James Bond’s favorite brand of Champagne, it became clear Alaphilippe wouldn’t be caught.

“Winning the stage in this manner is the most beautiful way to start this Tour,” Alaphilippe said. “This opportunity offered itself up and I had to seize it.”

He was overcome with emotion, barely able to speak through tears, at the prospect of slipping into the canary-yellow leader’s jersey for the first time in his career. He took the race lead from Mike Teunissen, a Dutch sprinter who won it on Stage 1 and held it on Stage 2 but who wilted on Epernay’s vineyard-covered hills.

It was Alaphilippe’s first stage victory at this Tour and third in his career. He also won two stages on the Tour last year.

“I so dreamed of this scenario and I thought of my family in front of the TV,” he said. “Incredible.”

Although relatively flat for much of the way, the furious hilly finale of the 215-kilometer (134-mile) trek from the Belgian town of Binche offered more inklings about the fitness of main contenders for the overall victory in Paris on July 28.

Defending champion Geraint Thomas couldn’t quite stay with his Ineos teammate Egan Bernal up the final incline. Bernal pipped Thomas by five seconds, strengthening suspicions that the lithe Colombian climber could he hard to contain in the Tour’s mountains, with the first climbing stage fast approaching in Stage 6 on Thursday.

French climber Thibaut Pinot, a podium finisher in 2014, also sped in with Bernal’s small group ahead of Thomas and other title contenders.

“Short, steep climbs aren’t necessarily what I love,” Thomas’ team quoted him as saying. “I wasn’t dancing up the climbs but I felt OK. I didn’t want to do more than had to be done.”

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