Spain, Argentina roll, set up final four showdown

Updated: August 29, 2006, 10:43 AM ET
Associated Press

SAITAMA, Japan -- Pau Gasol had 25 points and nine rebounds and Spain used another impressive performance to beat Lithuania 89-67 Tuesday and advance to the FIBA World Championship final four for the second time.

FIBA World Championship
QUARTERFINALS
Wednesday, Aug. 30
• Greece vs. France, 3:30 a.m. ET
• USA vs. Germany, 6:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2
SEMIFINALS
Friday, Sept. 1
• Argentina vs. Spain, 3:30 a.m. ET
• Greece-France vs. USA-Germany, 6:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2
CHAMPIONSHIP
Sunday, Sept. 3
• Semifinal winners, 6:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2
• Full schedule
• Vote on the matchups

Spain (7-0) will play Argentina (7-0), which advanced by routing Turkey 83-58 behind 21 poins from Andres Nocioni.

Both teams have run over their opponents in this tournament, with average margin of victories in the 20s. They both have NBA stars -- Argentina has Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs and Spain has Pau Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies.

"These are two of the best teams in the world and they play similar games with smart players," Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said of the final four matchup. "It will be a great, great game and people will enjoy it and nobody can say before the game who will win."

"The team who beats us is the team that plays really well," Spain coach Pepu Hernandez said. "We know we can lose if we don't do the right job and be the team we have been until this moment. They can beat us, but it will be difficult."

Spain 89, Lithuania 67
Juan Carlos Navarro added 22 points for Spain, which finished fourth in 1982 in its only other semifinal appearance.

"This game was much easier than we expected probably because of the way we established our rhythm and kept it up and did not allow Lithuania to ever get in the game," Navarro said. "We will do our best to make history. In front of us is a great opportunity and we have to try and take advantage because you don't get many chances."

Spain came into the game with an average margin of victory of 25 points, and it led this game 76-49 with five minutes to play when the reserves took over.

Gasol, the 7-foot center who plays for the Memphis Grizzlies, came into the game averaging 21 points and 9.2 rebounds while shooting 65 percent from the field. He was 8-for-14 from the field Tuesday and 9-for-12 from the free throw line.

Darius Lavrinovic had 17 points to lead Lithuania (4-3), which never recovered from another one of Spain's bursts, this one a 15-0 run that spanned the first and second quarters.

Lavrinovic scored down low with 3:53 left in the first quarter to bring Lithuania within 17-11. Lithuania wouldn't score again for 5:33, missing eight shots and committing six turnovers as Spain turned up the defensive pressure and scored again and again on breakaway layups and dunks.

Linas Kleiza, who plays for the Denver Nuggets, finally broke Lithuania's drought with a tip-in with 8:20 left in the first half, cutting Spain's lead to 32-13. Spain led 47-30 at halftime and opened the second half with a 7-0 run, forcing three turnovers in the first two minutes.

"They could not get into the game with the best moment of Spanish defense," Hernandez said. "Maybe 30 percent of our defense is strategy. The rest is the mentality and the work of the players on the court."

Navarro had four of Spain's five 3-pointers and Gasol was dominant inside as Spain pulled away to another easy win. The closest any team has come was Angola, which lost 93-83 in the opening round.

Spain finished with 17 steals and forced Lithuania into 28 turnovers, nine more than its average over the first six games.

Lithuania, a young team that wasn't given much of a chance at a medal entering the tournament, surprised Italy in the second round to reach the quarterfinals.

"We brought a young team and we learned a lot. This can only make us better," said Kleiza, who had 15 points and 14 rebounds. "They ran straight at us."

Lithuania coach Antanas Sireika didn't want to use major international inexperience as an excuse.

"We did not prepare mentally for this game," he said. "In a game as important as this, you cannot make 28 turnovers and expect to get away with it. We still have a long way to go before becoming a strong team. We have a lot of work to do."

Argentina 83, Turkey 58
Nocioni, who plays for the Chicago Bulls, was 6-for-7 from the field and grabbed six rebounds to lead Argentina in its latest blowout. The South Americans came in having won its first six games by an average of 23 points.

They took over this one by holding Turkey (5-2) to seven points in the second quarter to take a 43-23 halftime lead.

Argentina shot 55 percent (16-for-29) in the opening half, holding Turkey to 32 percent (9-for-28), well off the 46 percent it was shooting entering the game. Turkey averaged 76.7 points in its first six games.

"We played our best defense of the tournament in the first half," Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. "We got easy points because we had a lot of patience on offense and when we do that we can find easy points."

Ginobili had seven points on 1-for-2 shooting and only played 16 minutes. No Argentina starter played in the fourth quarter, which started with it leading 75-40.

A concern for Argentina in its 79-62 second-round win over New Zealand was that it missed 17 of its 18 3-point attempts. Against Turkey, Argentina finished 8-for-23 from beyond the arc.

Cenk Aykol had 11 points to lead Turkey, which lost only to unbeaten Greece in the final game of the opening round. Turkey advanced to its first quarterfinal with a 90-84 victory over Slovenia.

"Nobody in Turkey was expecting we would be in the eight and for that we are very proud," Aykol said. "We never thought this would be a 30-point game. We couldn't play defense and couldn't make baskets but we tried our best."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press