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Kirk Penney (NZL)
05/09/2014
News
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SPAIN 2014: Group Phase delivers plenty of drama and high quality games

BARCELONA/MADRID (FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Plenty of drama was expected at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain and there was certainly an abundance of it at all four venues of the Group Phase.

Some sides managed to seal their places in the Round of 16 with games to spare in Granada, Sevilla, Bilbao and Gran Canaria while others only did so on the last day of the opening stage.

Heavyweights Spain, Greece and the United States won all five of their games and marched into the next phase but the players and coaches of France, Croatia, Turkey, the Dominican Republic, New Zealand and Mexico woke up on Thursday knowing their places in Madrid or Barcelona had yet to be assured.

Here is a look at the some of the big moments and big games in the Group Phase.

Group A, Granada
Spain, Brazil, France and Serbia advanced, Iran and Egypt did not.

Brazil 65 France 63
A fully-loaded Brazilian squad hit back from an 18-11 deficit at the end of the first quarter to lead 28-26 at half-time. They appeared to be easing to a win when a Marcelinho Huertas jump shot with 1:49 remaining gave them a 60-53 advantage. Thomas Heurtel then sparked a French comeback with a three-pointer. With 15 seconds left, Florent Pietrus sank a pair of free-throws to cut the deficit to 63-60. After Huertas sank one of two free-throws, Antoine Diot nailed a three-ball with three seconds to go to close the gap to 64-63. Brazil held on for a narrow and very important triumph.

France 74 Serbia 73
Edwin Jackson made the France roster because of his ability to put the ball in the basket. He drilled three very important shots from the arc and finished with 12 points. It was France's defense, and then a gritty move by Joffrey Lauvergne in the waning moments, that allowed Les Bleus to beat Serbia. With eight seconds remaining, Serbia had possession and the opportunity to go ahead but when Bogdan Bogdanovic drove down the left side of the lane, Boris Diaw reached in and Lauvergne also moved his feet to stay between the Serbian and the basket. He spilled the ball out of bounds. After a timeout and with 4.8 seconds to go, France inbounded the ball to Lauvergne beyond the three-point line. He then dribbled toward the basket before being fouled by Miroslav Raduljica, and the big center made one of two free-throws for the victory.

Spain 82 Brazil 63
The Spaniards have home-court advantage and a squad stocked with talent and that showed in Granada as they won their five outings by an average of 25.2 points per game. Pau Gasol wasted no time in establishing himself in the contest against the Brazilians, pouring in 15 of his game-high 26 points in the first quarter as Spain opened up a 30-16 advantage. Juan Carlos Navarro also provided plenty of points in that first frame and showed he remains one of the most explosive players in the squad. The hosts used that great start as a launchpad for an 82-63 rout and their third win after blowout triumphs over Iran and Egypt.

France 81 Iran 76
Iran, needing a win to maintain their hope of advancing, cut a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to 79-74 with 1:58 remaining on a dunk from Hamed Haddadi but France then got a slam of their own from Lauvergne to take the lead back to seven. Iran pulled to within five once more but got no closer and saw their bid to advance to the Round of 16 dashed.

Group B, Sevilla
Greece, Croatia, Argentina and Senegal advanced, Philippines and Puerto Rico did not.

Croatia 81 Philippines 78
The Philippines needed just one game to serve notice how difficult they were going to be to beat at the Basketball World Cup. After charging back from a double-digit deficit to take a 69-66 lead, Gilas failed to stop Krunoslav Simon from knotting the contest with a three-pointer just 2:05 from the end. Chot Reyes' side had an opportunity to win in regulation but Jeff Chan's long jump shot only drew iron. The FIBA Asia side again led in overtime, but four Bojan Bogdanovic free-throws put Croatia in front to stay.

Croatia 90 Argentina 85
Bojan Bogdanovic and Dario Saric poured in 16 points apiece and Simon added 18 as Croatia survived a 30-point, nine-rebound performance from Luis Scola to win.

Senegal 77 Croatia 75
The Senegalese showed they were for real. After surprising Puerto Rico in their previous game, the Africans stunned Croatia for a second win that would ultimately punch their ticket to the next round. Gorgui Dieng followed up his 18-point, 13-rebound effort with 27 and eight in the win over the Croatians.

Greece 79 Argentina 71
The Greeks stormed into a 28-16 lead by the end of the opening quarter and used that as a platform for victory on the last day of the Group Phase, one that kept them unbeaten. Needing sizable contributions from center Giannis Bourousis in Spain, Greece got 16 points and 15 rebounds from the veteran in the win.

Group C, Bilbao
The USA, Turkey, Dominican Republic and New Zealand advanced, Ukraine and Finland did not.

Turkey 76 New Zealand 73
The Tall Blacks led by as many as 12 points in the fourth quarter but Turkey refused to go away. Ergin Ataman's team, led by Oguz Savas, went on a 15-0 run to turn a 72-61 deficit with 5:22 remaining into a 76-72 advantage nearly three minutes later. Corey Webster, who had been spectacular in the contest with 22 points, was off target with a potential game-tying three-ball 16 seconds from the end and the Turks held on.

USA 98 Turkey 77
For 28 minutes, Turkey played as if they might spring the biggest upset of the tournament. By shutting down the lane on defense with Omer Asik a towering presence and by controlling tempo and then hitting a timely three-pointers in the third quarter, Ataman's squad proved a difficult hurdle to clear. Kenneth Faried scored with a lay-up to snap a 59-59 tie late in the third frame, however, and Stephen Curry followed with a three-ball to put the USA on their way to victory.

Finland 81 Ukraine 76
Hammered by the USA on opening night, the Finns made 11 of 28 three-pointers and forced 18 Ukraine turnovers. They went in front by 17 points in the fourth quarter but poor execution over the final four minutes by Finland allowed Ukraine to shave a lot of points off the margin of defeat.

Ukraine 64 Turkey 58
Ihor Zaytsev (12 points) and Olexandre Mishula (19 points) hit a series of big shots in the game, with the former particularly good in the fourth quarter, as Ukraine bounced back from defeat to improve to 2-1 and drop Turkey to 1-2.

Turkey 77 Finland 73
Coming off a game in which the Dominican Republic had dominated them, the Finns looked to set the record straight against Turkey. For much of the contest, they looked like the better team and there was no shortage of determination. Finland were better on the boards and they made 15 of their 28 attempts from three-point range. Turkey hit back from a double-digit deficit but still looked as if they would lose when Petteri Koponen went to the free-throw line with 15 seconds left and his team on top, 68-65. He missed both free-throws, and Turkey then sprinted up the floor and found Cenk Akyol in the right corner for an open three-pointer that he buried to force overtime. In the extra period, Kerem Gonlum and Emir Preldzic took over and made sure Turkey claimed a famous win.

New Zealand 73 Ukraine 61
The Tall Blacks entered the game with an 0-3 record but intent on reaching the Round of 16. Getting a double-double from reserves Isaac Fotu (10 points and 10 rebounds) and Everard Barlett (four three-pointers), and a huge 48-25 advantage rebounding advantage, the Tall Blacks beat Ukraine.

New Zealand 67 Finland 65
The Finns, deflated after their overtime defeat to Turkey, fell behind by 20 points but launched a stirring comeback that saw them pull to within 66-65 after two free-throws from Sasu Salin with 1:12 left. After Mika Vukona, New Zealand's hustling but very effective undersized power forward, split two free-throws for a 67-65 Kiwi advantage, Finland called timeout. When play resumed, Koponen, Finland's best player, missed a short jumper. Ukraine's heavy defeat in the next game meant that the Turks, Dominicans and Tall Blacks had joined USA as the teams from Group C to make the Round of 16.

Group D
Lithuania, Slovenia, Australia and Mexico advanced, Angola and Korea did not.

Slovenia 90 Australia 80
Slovenia saw their big lead on opening day against Australia evaporate as the Boomers put on full-court pressure in the fourth quarter that helped them get within striking distance. But with Goran Dragic pouring in 21 points, the Slovenians prevailed.

Mexico 79 Angola 55
The FIBA Americas champions went into the Group Phase knowing their best shots at victories would come against Angola and Korea. Against the AfroBasket 2013 winners, Mexico got a splendid effort from their center Gustavo Ayon (17pts, 12rbs) and broke open a tight game at half-time with a strong third quarter when they outscored Angola 21-10. They would later advance to the Round of 16 thanks to their victory over Angola.

Australia 82 Lithuania 75
Joe Ingles had 18 points and Australia, who opened up a 47-28 lead by half-time, held on for the win. The Lithuanians twice pulled to within three points in the fourth quarter but did not overhaul the deficit.

Lithuania 67 Slovenia 64
The Baltic giants knew first place would be theirs in Group D with a win since Australia had lost for a second time in an upset to Angola earlier in the day. In a remarkably low-scoring last quarter, Slovenia had just two points. Adas Juskevicius, who was added to the squad after an an injury to Mantas Kalnietis near the end of the preparations, scored the go-ahead lay-up for the winners.

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