Argentina’s grand old man Luis Scola knocked down a series of key buckets in a fourth-quarter run Tuesday to crush Serbian hopes and propel the South Americans into the semi-finals of the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Scola, 39 years old and the last remaining member of Argentina’s “Golden Generation” that won the Olympics in 2004, finished with a team-high 20 points in the fast-paced 97-87 win.
The outcome leaves Argentina undefeated in the World Cup, hosted this year by China, and headed for a Friday match-up against the winner of USA-France, who tip-off on Wednesday.
For the Serbs, shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings led all scorers with 21 points, while Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic added 16 in the quarterfinal contest in Dongguan in southern China.
Despite Scola’s late heroics, player of the game honours went to Argentine guard Facundo Campazzo, who kept the Serbs on their heels the entire game by relentlessly pushing the ball upcourt.
Campazzo, who plays his pro ball in Spain, finished with a double-double of 18 points, 12 assists and three steals.
“Before all this started, our first goal was the semi-finals and we knew we could do it. We knew we could play like (we did) tonight,” Campazzo said.
– Disappointed Serbs –
The outcome was a bitter disappointment for the Serbians, who are packed with NBA talent and had title hopes after demolishing their opponents in the group phases by a average 40.8 points per game.
But the Serbs, led by do-it-all centre Jokic, were rattled by a second-round 81-69 loss to Spain on Sunday.
That seemed to carry over into Tuesday as they were never quite able to get in sync against the quick Argentines, who seemed to be moving in another gear under Campazzo’s direction.
Trailing most of the game, Serbia looked like they were about to take control when they grabbed a 70-68 fourth quarter lead on a three-pointer by the Memphis Grizzlies’ Marko Guduric.
That’s when Scola stepped up, scoring eight rapid-fire points in a 21-6 Argentina run that dropped the curtain on Serbia’s World Cup.
“We believed it. It wasn’t impossible. We have a great team and we have great energy,” said Argentina forward Patricio Garino.
As his salt-and-pepper hair shows, Scola is by far the oldest player in the relatively young Argentina squad.
But Scola, who played for several NBA teams in the past and now roams the paint for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association, has turned back the clock in the World Cup, the only major international trophy he has not won.
He was player of the game in Sunday’s 91-65 victory over Poland with 21 points, and also grabbed that honour against Nigeria with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
“He is the man. We follow him,” Argentine coach Sergio Hernandez said after the game.
Jokic was valiant in defeat, snagging a game-high 17 rebounds, as his teammates repeatedly turned to him to provide a spark.
But he got little support for most of the game from his team’s long-range shooters, who had been among the most accurate from the three-point range throughout the tournament but couldn’t find the mark against Argentina.
“We should have played better defense and more concentrated. The toughest matches are the quarter-finals but now we have lost the chance to win a medal,” said Bogdanovic.
“The best thing we can do now is to fight to at least be the fifth.”