Gasol leads Spain to Euro gold
KATOWICE, Poland -- Pau Gasol had 18 points and 11 rebounds to lead world champion Spain to a 85-63 win over Serbia in the final of the European basketball championship Sunday.
The victory gave Spain its first European title after six runner-up finishes, including a one-point loss two years ago to Russia in front of its home crowd.
The Spaniards dominated from the start at both ends of the court, playing pressure man-to-man defense and getting out on the break for easy baskets to take a 15-point first quarter lead. Serbia never recovered.
Gasol, a star with the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, scored down low and blocked three shots on his way to winning the tournament MVP honors.
"It was a great game, and obviously we won the final that we lost twice before this year, so I'm extremely happy and it's an unforgettable day for us," Gasol said. "We just worked so hard to win this championship and I'm just super proud of my teammates."
Guard Rudy Fernandez chipped in with 13 points for Spain, while Uros Tripkovic led Serbia with 15 points.
"We lost the first half, and probably the game was finished," Serbia coach Dusan Ivkovic said. "The Spanish team was better and they deserved absolutely this title."
Spain was pegged as the favorite coming into the tournament, but struggled early, dropping its opener to Serbia 66-57 and losing a second-round game to Turkey.
Those setbacks prompted the team to change its attitude and raise its level of play.
"We were aware of our individual quality, but we weren't playing as well or as good as we should have collectively," Gasol said. "So we sat down, and were like it's now or never, we have to react, we have to work together, we have to start having fun playing, playing with enthusiasm. And it just clicked."
Did it ever. The team won its final five games by an average of 21.2 points.
"At the beginning we were a little bit concerned, but with hard work and great commitment from players we get to be an excellent defensive team, and we showed it in the last games," Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said.
Serbia, a surprise finalist, had the youngest team at the tournament with an average age of 22.4 years. For the first time in the tournament, Serbia's youth showed.
"Maybe this final came a little bit early for this team," Ivkovic said. "We don't have this kind of experience, but we don't have any reason to be disappointed."
Earlier Sunday, Greece slipped past Slovenia 57-56 to win the bronze medal.
In a hard-nosed defensive struggle, Greece used a 14-0 run in the first half to open a 10-point gap and hung on in the closing seconds to win the bronze two years after finishing fourth at the tournament.
"Today the team was very focused," Greece forward Antonios Fotsis said. "Everybody wanted to play well and at least win the bronze medal. This is a very big success for us."
Also, France beat Croatia 69-62 behind 18 points from Antoine Diot in the fifth-place game.
Both teams had already qualified for next year's world championship in Turkey and were only playing to determine the final placings.
Also, guard Vitalii Fridzon scored 26 points to lead Russia past Turkey 89-66 for seventh place at the tournament.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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