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Pako Cruz puts on another show as Mexico upset Russia to book ticket into Semis
SPLIT (Croatia) - Russia held Francisco Pako Cruz to just seven points in the first half, but the Mexican sharpshooter woke up with 11 points in the third quarter to lead Mexico to a 72-64 win over Russia on Wednesday.
Mexico stand 1-1 in the Group Stage, but because of a positive points difference (+2), they are already through to the Semi-Finals; they cannot finish at the bottom of the group, not even in a three-way tie.
The game was a real physical battle, with Mexico earning bonus points for keeping up the fighting rhythm throughout the 40 minutes, despite the fact they played a close game against Germany just 24 hours prior.
Turning point: Coach Omar Quintero's halftime team talk. Whatever he said to his team proved to be decisive, because Mexico held Russia to 7 points in the third quarter and took the lead for good. Even when Quintero rested his Big Three (Paul Stoll, Francisco Cruz and Gustavo Ayon) at the same time to start the fourth, Russia were able to create only a +2 advantage over those two and a half minutes.
A fresh Cruz off the bench was ready to make an immediate impact, an and-one plus an assist sent Mexico to a +10 advantage with seven minutes to play. Russia tried to come back but failed to do so, thanks to the Mexican defense holding them below 65 points.
Game hero: Tofas Bursa fans must be smiling these days, because their new player Pako Cruz has been nothing short of brilliant in Split, Croatia. Cruz was held to 7 points in the first half, but finished with 21, leading all scorers once again.
Stats don't lie: Turnovers killed Russia. Sergey Bazarevich's players turned it over 20 times, allowing Mexico to build a +10 edge in points from turnovers until the final two minutes when Russia's riskier pressure defense cut that gap to 24-21.
Bottom line: Mexico are now +2 after two games, which means that either Russia or Germany will be eliminated after their matchup on Thursday. If Germany win, the situation is clear: GER 2-0, MEX 1-1, RUS 0-2. Russia could advance if they defeat Germany by 7 or more points, forcing a three-way tie in which they would go through alongside Mexico.
"This is not how we wanted to start the tournament. It's a bad loss for us. At times we were okay, looked like we controlled the game after 20 minutes, but the third quarter killed us because we made 10 turnovers in the third quarter. Unexpected turnovers. Congratulations to Mexico. They have experience, they used that and we scored just seven points in the third quarter. We were trying to get back, we were fighting, missed some shots. We have to learn and be ready for (Thursday)." - Russia head coach Sergey Bazarevich
"I want to finish strong, that's why I took them out in the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth. We know what happened (against Germany) in the end, we came up short with energy. Today we didn't make the same mistake. Really, I believe in the other players, in the rotations. They did a great job. These guys closed the game. I believe these three guys make the difference. That's what Pako does. That's a clutch player." - Mexico head coach Omar Quintero about the start of the fourth quarter, when he rested Stoll, Cruz and Ayon