Serbia Montenegro whips Argentina in Worlds tune-up

Updated: August 11, 2006, 10:11 PM ET
SportsTicker

SINGAPORE -- In a preview of the World Championships, Serbia Montenegro showed Argentina it fully intends on defending its title.

Igor Rakocevic scored 18 points and Darko Milicic added 17 as Serbia rolled to an 83-64 victory over Argentina on Friday in the opener of the Singapore Cup, a four-team exhibition tournament.

"This is a friendly game and it will be very different at the World Championship," Serbia coach Dragan Sakota cautioned.

"We played terribly on offense and looked really bad," Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. "We didn't play badly on defense other than the last three minutes." At the 2002 World Championships, Serbia Montenegro won its second straight title by beating Argentina in overtime in the championship game. Since then, the countries have gone in opposite directions.

At the 2004 Olympics, Argentina defeated Serbia on a buzzer shot in group play and went on to win the gold medal. The Serbs failed to advance out of group play and did the same at 2005 Eurobasket amid bickering amongst themselves and with the coaches.

Both teams are in Group A at next week's World Championships in Japan and will meet August 24. On Friday, Serbia sent a strong message with its eighth win in nine warmup games.

Sakota's young team established an early lead and won convincingly with Rakocevic and Milicic providing the inspiration. Rakocevic, who has taken over the captaincy from the retired Dejan Bodiroga, made four 3-pointers. Milicic, a forward for the Orlando Magic, added nine rebounds.

"We have a young team and a lot of players haven't played in a World Championship, but it's good to see that they are finding their form," Sakota said.

Carlos Delfino of the Detroit Pistons scored 16 points and Luis Scola and San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili added 11 apiece for Argentina, which shot just 30 percent (20-of-66) from the floor.

"Right now I want my players to be at about 70 percent and they're not yet," Hernandez said. "But I know they can play a lot better."

Delfino's four-point play helped Argentina cut a 13-point deficit to 35-29 at halftime. However, Serbia had an 8-0 burst to start the third quarter, when Milicic made all four of his shots and scored 10 points.

Last week, Argentina lost to Spain, which used a strong second half to surge to a 96-85 victory over Slovenia in Friday's second game.

Among the favorites to win a gold medal at the World Championships, Spain trailed, 57-56, at halftime but limited Slovenia to 13 points in the third quarter and began the final period with a 14-5 run en route to its seventh consecutive victory this summer.

"They gave us a lot of problems in the first and second quarters with their rebounding," Spain coach Pepu Hernandez said. "But in the second half, we were able to get a better defensive rhythm, open the game up and run the fast break."

"They were a better team, especially in the second half," Slovenia coach Ales Pipan said. "We had too many turnovers and missed too many shots."

Center Jorge Garbajosa scored 17 points, Memphis Grizzlies All-Star forward Pau Gasol added 16 and Juan Carlos Navarro 15 for Spain. Sani Becirovic scored 17 points and Jaka Lakovic contributed 16 on 4-of-4 3-pointers for Slovenia.

On Saturday, Spain faces Serbia and Argentina meets Slovenia.

In other World Championships preparation, Yao Ming returned to the court but could not help China avoid an 82-73 loss to Germany in the Stankovic Continental Champions Cup in Nanjing.

The 7-5 Yao, an All-Star for the Houston Rockets, had not played since April due to a broken foot. He had 11 points, two rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes.

"Yao had really only five days training with the team, but he was a big help to the team, especially on the boards," China coach Jonas Kazlaukas said.

Dirk Nowitzki, the superstar forward of the Dallas Mavericks, scored 16 of his 27 points in the final period for Germany. He also grabbed 12 rebounds.

"Dirk was very strong in the second half, and Patrick [Femerling] defended sensationally against Yao Ming," Germany coach Dirk Bauermann said. "We can build on this performance."

Both host Japan and Qatar announced their 12-man rosters for the World Championships, which begin August 19 in four cities.