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FIBA World Cup: Spain, upset-minded Argentina reach semifinals

Ricky Rubio dished out 9 assists on Tuesday to become the World Cup’s all-time leader in that category. Aly Song, Reuters

Argentina’s grand old man Luis Scola knocked down a series of key buckets in a fourth quarter surge Tuesday to crush Serbian hopes and propel the South Americans into the semifinals of the FIBA World Cup.

Scola, 39 years old and the last remaining member of Argentina’s “Golden Generation” that won the Olympics in 2004, finished with a team-high 20 points in the 97-87 win.

Meanwhile, Spain will play Australia or the Czech Republic in Friday’s semifinals, as Ricky Rubio made history in a 90-78 win over surprise-packages Poland.

The victory leaves Argentina undefeated in the World Cup, hosted this year by China, and headed for a Friday match-up against the winner of USA-France, which tips off on Wednesday.

For the Serbs, shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings led all scorers with 21 points, while Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic added 16. 

The bigger Serbians, who had looked dominant in group play behind do-it-all center Jokic, had to play catch-up against the quick Argentines throughout their quarterfinal contest in Dongguan in southern China.

Serbia finally grabbed a 70-68 fourth quarter lead on a three-pointer by the Memphis Grizzlies’ Marko Guduric and looked like they might make amends for a frustrating 81-69 second-round loss to Spain, the only blemish in their World Cup campaign to that point.

But that’s when Scola stepped up, scoring eight rapid-fire points in a 21-6 Argentina run that dropped the curtain on Serbia’s World Cup.

“We believed it. It wasn’t impossible. We have a great team and we have great energy,” said Argentina forward Patricio Garino.

Luis Scola stepped up for Argentina in the South American side’s upset win over Serbia on Tuesday. Kim Kyung-Hoon, Reuters

Scola is by far the oldest player in the relatively young Argentina squad.

“The way we played today is an example of what we want to do over the years,” Garino said. 

Argentina were the more fluid of the two teams throughout the game, moving the ball well and spreading out the scoring.

Serbia had looked like title contenders after demolishing their opponents in the group phases by a average 40.8 points per game. 

But the subsequent loss to Spain rocked the Serbs and they never seemed able to find a consistent rhythm against a pesky Argentine defence.

Jokic was valiant in defeat as his team relied heavily on him, but he got little support for most of the game from his team’s long-range shooters, who had been among the most accurate from the three-point range throughout the tournament.

“We should have played better defense and more concentrated. The toughest matches are the quarter-finals but now we have lost the chance to win a medal,” said Bogdanovic.

“The best thing we can do now is to fight to at least be the fifth.”

In the second game, the Poles, back in the competition after a 52-year absence, had defied expectations to reach the last eight in China.

They were behind from the third minute against the Olympic bronze medalists on Tuesday in Shanghai, with the Phoenix Suns’ Rubio making an electric start for Spain.

He had nine points in the first half and grabbed his 107th career World Cup assist to become the all-time leader, surpassing Pablo Prigioni of Argentina. 

Rubio finished the match with 19 points, nine assists and five rebounds.

Juan Hernangomez of the Denver Nuggets surged to 14 points before the break as Spain, ranked two in the world behind reigning champions the United States, threatened to run riot.

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