Yao's 29 points not enough for China

Updated: August 26, 2004, 5:49 PM ET
Associated Press

RESULTS: Lithuania 95, China 75 | Italy 83, Puerto Rico 70
Argentina 69, Greece 64

ATHENS, Greece -- With a different star but the same team concept, Lithuania reached the men's basketball semifinals for the fourth straight Olympics.

The Lithuanians remained unbeaten Thursday with a 95-75 victory over China, setting up a semifinal game against Italy, which beat Puerto Rico 83-70. Lithuania has settled for bronze in the last three Olympics.

Reserve guard Arvydas Macijauskas had 32 points for Lithuania (6-0), which used its defense and rebounding to get its fastbreak going and stop the surprising run by China (2-4) and star center Yao Ming.

Lithuania entered the game with six players averaging nine points or better. In its biggest win so far -- the 94-90 victory over the United States in the preliminaries -- Sarunas Jasikevicius had 28 points, 16 of them in the fourth quarter.

Seven players had at least seven points on Thursday.

Yao had 29 points and 11 rebounds for China, which reached the quarterfinals with a 67-66 victory over two-time defending world champion Serbia-Montenegro. Longtime NBA coach Del Harris, who took over the China national program in May, called it the best win in his 45-year career.

Macijauskas had 19 points in the first half as Lithuania took a 53-37 lead, more than doubling his average. He finished 11-for-16 from the field and made all four of his 3-point attempts.

China closed within 55-45, but the 7-foot-6 Yao, who plays for the Houston Rockets, picked up his third foul less than 20 seconds later and went to the bench. The teams exchanged 3-pointers before Lithuania went on a 9-2 run to take a 67-50 lead with 1:54 left in the third quarter.

After Yao returned, China couldn't get closer than 74-61.

With a win over Spain on Friday in the seventh-place game, China -- the eighth-place team in 1996 -- would have its best finish in eight Olympic appearances. It would be an upbeat ending as the country prepares to host the Olympics in 2008.

Massimo Bulleri scored 20 points to lead Italy to an 83-70 victory over Puerto Rico on Thursday night and its first Olympic basketball semifinal since 1980.

Italy (4-2) will face Lithuania on Friday night with the winner advancing to the gold medal game. Lithuania (6-0), which has won the last three bronze medals, beat China 95-75 in the quarterfinals.

Gianluca Basile added 18 points for Italy, including the 3-pointer that capped a 13-5 run to open the second half and gave his team a 54-42 lead.

Elias Ayuso had 24 points and backcourt mate Carlos Arroyo, who plays for the Utah Jazz, added 23 for Puerto Rico, which got no closer than six points after the opening run.

Puerto Rico opened the tournament with the shocking 92-73 victory over the United States. It couldn't get any momentum from it, however, losing to Lithuania and Greece in the preliminary round while beating Australia and Angola, both of which didn't advance to the quarterfinals, by a total of eight points.

Denis Marconato had 15 points and 12 rebounds for Italy, which won its only men's basketball medal in 1980, a silver. It reached the semifinals two other times -- 1960 and 1972 -- finishing fourth in both. Its only Olympic appearances since 1980 were in 1984 and 2000, finishing fifth both times.

Puerto Rico reached the semifinals in 1964 and finished fourth.

Argentina earned a semifinal matchup against the United States by defeating Greece 69-64 Thursday night in the quarterfinals of men's basketball.

Denying the Greeks a chance at their best Olympic finish ever and quieting a partisan crowd, Argentina used its defense to hold Greece to just six points over the final six minutes.

This will be the first Olympic semifinal appearance by Argentina since 1952 -- some 50 years before they made basketball history at the World Championships in Indianapolis by becoming the first team ever to defeat U.S. squad comprised of NBA players.

The other semifinal pits Lithuania, which defeated China 95-75, against Italy, which downed Puerto Rico 83-70.

Argentina held Greece without a field goal for 5½ minutes until Nikolaos Chatzivrettas made a 3-pointer with 35.6 seconds remaining to cut Greece's deficit to 65-64.

Luis Scola, whose NBA rights are owned by the San Antonio Spurs, was fouled and skinned his right elbow as he fell to the floor with 23.4 seconds left. Wearing a bandage over the cut, he swished both free throws and then got his hand on Fragkiscos Alvertis' 3-point attempt.

Manu Ginobili grabbed the rebound, was fouled and made both free throws to lock up the win.

Ginobili and Fabricio Oberto led Argentina with 13 points apiece.

Perhaps looking ahead, the Argentinian team hardly even appeared to be trying in the second quarter, failing to play defense with any intensity, missing easy shots and scoring just seven points. On one play, point guard Alejandro Montecchia had the ball deflected away, casually got it back and let Greece's Theodoros Papaloukas bat it away again.

Papaloukas went in for an uncontested layup and a 35-27 lead, and Greece maintained the lead through most of the third quarter before Sanchez hit a 3-pointer to produce a 53-53 tie entering the fourth quarter.

A putback by Luis Scola made it 55-53, giving Argentina its first lead since early in the second quarter, and a steal by Oberto off a sideline inbounds pass led to a four-on-none break and a layup by Montecchia for a six-point edge.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press