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Serbia Montenegro whips Argentina in Worlds tune-up

8/11/2006 - NBA

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.