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Friday, September 01, 2006

Spain Defeats Argentina for the Tenth Straight Time, 75-74

Spain will play Greece in the gold medal game of the FIBA World Championships after beating Argentina 75-74 in a hard fought and exciting semifinals matchup. Pau Gasol led Spain with 19 points and 11 rebounds but he injured his left foot late in the fourth quarter and had to be helped off of the court after the game while his teammates celebrated the victory. Jorge Garbajosa also had 19 points. Manu Ginobili had a game-high 21 points for Argentina but shot only 6-21 from the field, while Andres Nocioni contributed 15 points and played his usual rugged, hard nosed game.

Argentina got off to a great start, taking a 13-2 first quarter lead. Spain did not make a field goal until Gasol's three point play at the 4:09 mark. That made the score 14-7 Argentina. Nocioni had nine first quarter points and Argentina led 21-15 going into the second quarter.

Spain outscored Argentina 25-17 in the second quarter, largely by going to the hoop, drawing fouls and making free throws. Gasol had two more three point plays in the quarter and the second of them gave Spain a 32-23 advantage. Spain clung to a 40-38 lead at halftime.

Luis Scola's putback tied the score in the opening moments of the third quarter and the score stayed close throughout the period, with Spain taking a 60-56 lead into the final quarter. A quick 5-0 burst to open the fourth quarter put Spain ahead 65-56 and Argentina did not score until the 7:25 mark, when a Pepe Sanchez three pointer put Argentina within six points, 65-59. Spain kept a small lead for most of the quarter. Gasol made a nice baseline spin move and was fouled with 1:36 remaining. He injured his left foot on the play but sank two free throws to put Spain up by six before he limped to the bench. A Sanchez three pointer, a Ginobili drive and two Scola free throws enabled Argentina to tie the game at 74. Spain had possession with less than 24 seconds remaining and Argentina made an interesting strategic decision, electing to intentionally foul, possibly conceding two points but ensuring that they would have the last possession and a chance to win. Jose Calderon made only one of the two free throws and it looked like Argentina's plan might pay off, but Nocioni missed a corner jump shot and Spain tracked down the loose ball as time expired.

As ESPN2's Fran Fraschilla noted on several occasions, players from both countries are very familiar with each other, not only from FIBA competitions but also from playing in various European leagues. This led to a very physical game. Neither team shot particularly well for the game--.440 from the field for Spain, .358 from the field for Argentina--and it often seemed like the defensive team knew exactly what the offensive team was trying to do. The look and feel of this game was a lot different than what you see when watching Team USA play. Spain and Argentina utilize a lot more ball and player movement; Team USA's players and coaching staff should study this tape and apply the lessons learned to future FIBA competitions.

Spain has more "name" talent than Greece but Greece won the European championship and Gasol's status for Sunday's game is uncertain. The gold medal game should be very interesting indeed.

As for the bronze medal game between Team USA and Argentina, both teams had gold medal aspirations, so they are equally disappointed at how things have turned out. Whichever team can get past that mental hurdle and convince itself that fighting for the bronze medal is a worthy goal will have the edge in tomorrow's game. Team USA is unquestionably talented enough to beat any of these teams but it requires a very sound offensive and defensive approach to beat the elite FIBA teams. All of the things that Greece did to defeat Team USA--not turn the ball over, run screen and scroll plays, make three pointers--Argentina is also capable of doing, so this game will not be a walk in the park for Team USA. The much maligned 2004 U.S. Olympic team overcame its disappointment at not winning the gold medal and beat Lithuania in a spirited bronze medal game.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:42 PM

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