Like 1980, Italy settles for silver

Updated: August 29, 2004, 9:14 AM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Not a bad color for Argentina's first Olympic basketball medal.

Luis Scola scored 25 points and Alejandro Montecchia hit two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to lead Argentina to an 84-69 victory over Italy in the gold-medal game Saturday night.

Argentina's best finish in the Olympics had been fourth, in 1952, but the team that beat the United States in the semifinals got to stand on the highest platform Saturday night.

"This is the most exciting moment ever," Argentina coach Ruben Magnano said. "I am so pleased and proud to lead these young men who have given so much joy to their country."

It was Italy's second appearance in a gold-medal game, and as it did in 1980 when it lost to Yugoslavia, it went home with silver.

This was Argentina's second major international championship game in two years. In the 2002 World Championships it lost in overtime to Yugoslavia on a disputed call.

Argentina's Manu Ginobili, who plays for the San Antonio Spurs and was the only NBA player on the floor, said his teammates weren't thinking about revenge in this tournament, even when it beat Yugoslavia, playing here as Serbia-Montenegro, in the preliminary round.

Scola sealed the game with a dunk with 14 seconds left and did a chin-up on the rim as his teammates began to celebrate. Some ran to the scorer's table and saluted fans, others simply hugged on the court.

Montecchia finished with 17 points, and Ginobili had 16 and six assists for Argentina, which played without starting forward Fabricio Oberto, who broke his right arm in the semifinal win.

This was basically the same Argentina team that handed the United States its first loss with NBA players in the 2002 World Championships. Now its 2-0 over U.S. teams with pro players, and it has a gold medal, too.

Ginobili said the basketball title was even sweeter for Argentina because the country also won a gold medal in soccer Saturday.

"The most special thing you can do is win for your country," he said. "We win in soccer in the morning and then in basketball. Argentina is on top of the world because it is on top of the two biggest sports in the world today."

Matteo Soragna and Gianmarco Pozzecco each had 12 points for Italy, which stayed in the game using its most potent weapon, the 3-pointer.

Italy made nine of its first 18 shots from 3-point range and was within 56-54 with four minutes left in the third quarter. Suddenly, Italy went cold from beyond the arc. It missed seven of its next eight shots from long range, and when Montecchia hit his second 3 of the fourth quarter, Argentina had a 71-60 lead with 5:25 to play.

"There is a little pain because we lost, but tomorrow we will be better," Italy coach Carlo Recalcati said. "Getting to the final was a victory for us."

Earlier, the United States beat Lithuania 104-96 to win the bronze medal.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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