In Bilbao, Gran Canaria, Granada and Sevilla, all group stage matches are over. Though the last day saw some unexpected upsets, all favorite teams have marched to the next stage. With Friday being the day of rest, basketball action will resume on Saturday at Barcelona and Madrid. But Thursday had its fair share of exciting games like; New-Zealand edging out Finland in a match full of thrills; Angola beat Australia and Lithuania upstaging Slovenia to occupy top spot in Group D. In other exhilarating games, Iran scared France and USA had to draw on their last resource to keep Ukraine at bay. Though the Philippines went out of tournament, they clinched their first victory at World level in 40 years by scoring over Senegal 91-89 in an absolute cracker of a game.
Bilbao Exhibition Center was the focal point of basketball drama on Thursday. New-Zealand started off with impressive leads in the first and second quarters to rattle Finland. But the Finns fought back in the third. But when New-Zealand had built a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter, Finland launched a sudden assault and almost shocked the Kiwis towards the finish. For New-Zealand, 20-year old Isaac Fotu scored 18 points and he emerged amongst tournaments brightest stars. The Kiwis got the taste of their own medicine, late in the last quarter by some really spirited display that brought the game to a dramatic climax. The 20-point lead kept slipping and with just over a minute to go, New Zealand committed an unsportsmanlike foul. That gave Finland two free throws, both of which were converted. But the Finns were unable to capitalize on the extra possession, missing a shot and allowing Isaac Fotu to get the rebound. In these tense moments, the Kiwis could only add one more point and came away with the narrowest of victories. For New Zealand, Kirk Penney found the going difficult, missed several shooting chances and finished with just 11 points. However his big three-pointer saved New-Zealand in the end. New-Zealand’s win was good for Turkey and the Dominican Republic as these Group C teams also made marched to the round of 16 but played each other on Thursday. With Turkey winning the match 77-64, they moved to the second place in the Group C behind USA. Until Tuesday, New-Zealand had lost all their previous matches but their 12-point victory over Ukraine on Wednesday gave them hope.
Defending champions USA were pushed by Ukraine in their last Group match before coming through 95-71 in the end. They fell behind 14-19 in the first quarter and Ukraine tried to push them in the second quarter as well. But 17 points from James Harden and 14 from Stephen Curry brought them back mid-way in the game. Coach Krzyzewski, who now goes to Barcelona with the team, was happy with USA’s performance against Ukraine. Barcelona holds fond memories for Krzyzewski, who was the assistant coach 22 years ago, when USA’s dream Team won the Olympic gold in 1992.
On a frenetic last day’s play, Croatia blasted Puerto Rico 103-82 in a Group B match at Sevilla with Bojan Bogdanovic snatching 23 points. Croatia ended up in second place behind Greece. The Greeks defeated the Argentinians 79-71 with Giannis Bourousis scoring 16 points and 15 rebounds. Third place in Group B was taken by Puerto Rico and Senegal finished fourth despite their 81-79 loss to the already eliminated Filipinos. The Gilas played superbly against Senegal, helped by 18 points from Jim Alapag and another 18 from Andray Blatche, who also had 14 rebounds.
In Group D, Mexico advanced with a 87-71 win over Korea. Mexicans led the Koreans in each quarter and Hector Hernandez scored 16 points with 11 rebounds. Lithuania played brilliantly to knock out Slovenia 67-64 and occupied the top spot. However, the Australians were pushed to the third spot after their unexpected 91-83 defeat against Angola. The Aussies led in the first two quarters but Angola’s Yanick Moreira came up with super performance scoring 38 points and 15 rebounds. The Africans were placed fourth behind Australia in Group D.
In Group A, Spain scored a 89-73 victory over Serbia with Pau Gasol scoring 20 points. Brazil occupied the second spot with a crushing 128-65 victory over Egypt and France were placed third after surviving a scare from Iran, whom they beat 81-76. Serbia finished fourth in Group A.
In the round of 16 matches at Barcelona beginning on September 6, USA will meet Mexico in the first game while Dominican Republic will face Slovenia in the second. On the same day at Madrid, the first game will feature France and Croatia and the second Spain and Senegal.
On September 7, New-Zealand will play Lithuania and Turkey will take on Australia at Barcelona. At Madrid, Sunday’s first match will feature Serbia and Greece while Brazil and Argentina play in the second.