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SPAIN 2014 - Tall Blacks edge thriller to advance, send brave Finland home

BILBAO/GRAN CANARIA/GRANADA/SEVILLA (FIBA Basketball World Cup) - New Zealand edged Finland 67-65 in a Group C thriller on Thursday in Bilbao to clinch a spot in the Round of 16 at the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

On a wild last day of the Group Phase, Croatia throttled Puerto Rico 103-82 in Seville in Group B to progress and Mexico also advanced with an 87-71 triumph over Korea in Gran Canaria.

There was a big shake-up in Group D where Lithuania knocked off previously unbeaten Slovenia 67-64 to leapfrog them into first place. The Slovenians finished in second ahead of Australia, who dropped to third after an upset at the hands of Angola.

The venue with most of the drama was the Bilbao Exhibition Center, where New Zealand opened up a 20-point advantage over Finland but then had to hold on for dear life at the end.

Petteri Koponen, Finland's best player in the tournament, had a chance to tie the game at the death but his mid-range jump shot was short and the New Zealanders won.

Isaac Fotu, 20, who has emerged as one of the competition's brightest stars, had 18 points to lead the Tall Blacks to their second victory.

The Kiwis were then assured of their place in the next round when the United States overcame Ukraine 95-71 to stay unbeaten.

New Zealand had stayed in the hunt after an 0-3 start with a 12-point victory over Ukraine on Wednesday.

The USA, already assured of first place, got 17 points from James Harden and 14 from Stephen Curry.

Turkey and the Dominican Republic, who both gained spots in the Round of 16 with New Zealand's victory, battled for second place in the nightcap and the former cruised to a 77-64 triumph.

Oguz Savas led a balanced attack with 15 points for the winners.

The Dominican Republic, New Zealand and Ukraine each had 2-3 records but the Dominicans and Tall Blacks finished third and fourth on tie-breakers, with Ukraine falling to fifth.

In Group B, Croatia had a nervous day but pulled away from Puerto Rico.

Bojan Bogdanovic had 23 points for Croatia, who ended up in second place behind Greece.

The Greeks got 16 points and 15 rebounds from Giannis Bourousis and held off Argentina 79-71 to finish first while Julio Lamas' side ended up in third and Senegal in fourth.

Senegal will enter the next phase of the competition in Barcelona on the back of an 81-79 defeat to the Philippines, with the Asian team tasting victory for the first time.

Jim Alapag (18 points) and Andray Blatche (18 points, 14 rebounds) led the way for Gilas.

Croatia and Argentina were each 3-2 but the former took second because of their victory over the latter.

In Group D, Slovenia lost to  Lithuania. Jonas Valanciunas paced the victors with 12 points and Darjus Lavrinovic contributed 11 points and eight rebounds.

Australia lost earlier in the day to Angola as the Africans claimed their second win of the tournament behind Yanick Moreira's impressive 38 points and 15 rebounds performance.

The result could not prevent the 2013 AfroBasket winners from finishing fourth, however, as Mexico prevailed for the second time.

The FIBA Americas champions got the better of Korea.

The Mexicans hammered Angola in their meeting on Tuesday and therefore finished fourth.

In Group A, Spain rolled to an 89-73 victory over Serbia with Pau Gasol pouring in 20 points.

Brazil thrashed Egypt 128-65 to wrap up second place and France advanced in third place after a tough 81-76 victory over Iran.

Serbia finished fourth in Group A.

After Thursday’s games, the Round of 16 fixtures are set.

In Barcelona on Saturday, the USA will meet Mexico in a battle of the Americas in the first game and the Dominican Republic will square off against Slovenia in the second.

The other bracket in Madrid has France meeting Croatia first and Spain going up against Senegal second.

On Sunday, New Zealand meet Lithuania and Turkey go up against Australia in the late game, with both clashes in Barcelona.

Madrid has Serbia meeting Greece in the opener and Brazil then taking on Argentina.

Argentina and Brazil met in the Round of 16 four years ago with the former winning a classic 93-89.