Day 4 Men: ESP 76 - SCG 68
Spain stun World Champions
ATHENS, August 21 (Olympics) - Oh how the mighty are falling at the Athens Games with world champions Serbia & Montenegro the latest to suffer a near debilitating blow at the hands of Spain.
The powerhouses from the Iberian Peninsula beat Zeljko Obradovic's team 76-68.
Serbia & Montenegro, at these Olympics without NBA All Star Peja Stojakovic and 1998 World Championships MVP Zeljko Rebraca, have just a single victory and that was a narrow one over Italy.
They have also suffered last-second defeats to Argentina and New Zealand.
Mario Pesquera's Spaniards, unbeaten in their summer programme and now a perfect 4-0 in the preliminary round, had five players hit double figures in scoring and the team kept its poise in a game that wasn't settled until the final minute.
Silver medalists at the 2003 European Championships in Sweden, Spain are looking good bets to win a medal and it may end up being gold.
They have also beaten China, Argentina and Italy, and will be expected to claim a fifth victory against New Zealand on Monday.
"I want to use this opportunity to congratulate my colleague (Pesquera) for everything he has done for his team," a disconsolate Obradovic said in the post-match press conference.
Pesquera's team is already in the quarter-finals, but they have one more game to play.
"Against New Zealand we will play with all our heart," Pesquera said. "This is the only thing that counts for me."
Obradovic believes the Spaniards are good enough to go all the way and capture gold.
They have been receiving terrific guard play from Jose Manuel Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro and Juame Comas.
Estudiantes' Carlos Jimenez, the national team captain, has been solid at small forward and big men Jorge Garbajosa and Pau Gasol have been dominant forces both close to the basket and outside.
Spain are not a great three-point shooting team, but it's proving to matter very little as they are so strong in other areas.
"We played against a strong team that I consider a favourite to reach the final," Obradovic admitted. "They are very complete in all positions, and most importantly they play like a team."
The short-term goal for Spain may be to beat New Zealand, but the long-term objective is the title, especially considering how they have cut down the opposition in what was supposed to be the extremely difficult Group A.
Spain threatened to pull away in the second quarter when Comas scored and was fouled on a drive.
He converted the three-point play for a 25-17 lead, but Serbia & Montenegro replied by scoring eight unanswered points.
NBA centre Predrag Drobnjak came off the bench and gave Obradovic valuable minutes. After scoring and being fouled by Comas, he sank his shot from the line to make it 25-20.
The next time down court he went up strong again and was hit by Felipe Reyes. Drobnjak made both free throws to cut the deficit to three.
After Dejan Tomasevic split two from the line, his new Pamesa Valencia team-mate Igor Rakocevic scored to tie the contest at 25-25.
The game would end up being tied at half-time, 31-31.
Serbia & Montenegro had fought hard, and prevented Gasol from becoming a factor.
He missed all three of his shots and had no points at the break.
That changed quickly.
Gasol won the tip at the start of the half and scored down low after a pass from best friend Navarro.
Serbia & Montenegro, struggling against a two-three zone, fell behind by as many as eight in the quarter, but maintained their composure and when Vladimir Radmanovic buried a three-pointer and then powered his way up for two points down low, they had a 52-49 advantage with 13 seconds to go in the third.
Calderon's layup cut the deficit to 52-51 with 10 minutes to go.
A vital sequence from Jimenez on offence led Spain to victory.
He first struck with 5:17 left.
Catching a pass from Garbajosa, he scored and was fouled by Drobnjak.
Jimenez converted the chance for a 60-57 lead, and Spain kept their noses in front the rest of the way.
Milos Vujanic scored two from the line, but Jimenez replied with a baseline jumper and their opponents would get no closer than three although Spain were nursing a four-point lead with 24 seconds left.
Calderon sealed the game at the line with two free throws seven seconds later.
He led the Spanish with 15 points while Gasol had 14 and Navarro 13.
Jimenez finished with 11 points on four of seven shooting. He fouled out with late in the game.
Pesquera was magnanimous in victory.
"They (Serbia & Montenegro) are missing some great players, and in addition they didn't have any luck in this tournament," he said. "They have lost with small margins in a tournament where differences between teams are small and every game decided by details."
Drobnjak admitted: "We are now in a difficult situation. We played hard, but made some mistakes that we shouldn't have. I hope we can stay in the competition.
Serbia & Montenegro turned the ball over 14 times in the game.
"We lost because we committed too many," Obradovic added.
From Jeff Taylor, PA International, Athens
Jose Manuel CALDERON (ESP), Guard
On the key of the game:
"I think that our strong point today was defence. We play really hard and we were determined about this game. Serbia fought well and took advantage of our turnovers and our missed shots, especially the three-point ones, but in the end we were more focus on our goal and we made it."
On the last game of the preliminaries against NZL:
"We are always playing to win. We are first in our pool and we are waiting for our opponent."
|Press conference quotes:|
Juan Carlos NAVARRO, Guard (ESP)
"I'm very happy we got our fourth consecutive win in the tournament. Our mentality is now in a very good level. Although the next game is not important standings-wise, we want to continue at the same pace, winning and gaining the respect of other teams. We would also like to have the opportunity to try some details we need to improve both in offense and defense. We are not afraid of any team we could face in the quarterfinals, but I'd like us to avoid Spain."
Mario PESQUERA, Head Coach (ESP)
"It was a very tough game, with our opponents playing aggressive defense and possessing great talent from the perimeter. In the first half our rebounding was not particularly strong, but then we switched our defense to zone and we came up with the win in a very close game. Against New Zealand we will play with all our heart to win; this is the only thing that counts for me. We can think about the quarterfinals later on. Serbia/Montenegro is a great team. They are missing some great players, and in addition they didnt have any luck in this tournament. They have lost with small margins in a tournament where differences between teams are small and every game is decided on details.
Predrag DROBNJAK, Forward (SCG)
"It was a tough loss, because if we had won we would have advanced for sure, not depending on other teams results. We are now in a difficult situation. We played hard, but we made some mistakes that we shouldnt. I hope for us to stay in the competition."
Zelimir OBRADOVIC, Head Coach (ESP)
"Very difficult game, with big intensity. Both teams tried to play aggressively. We lost because we committed many turnovers. We played against a strong team, that I consider a favorite to reach the final. They are very complete in all positions, and most importantly they play like a team. I am using this opportunity to congratulate my colleague (Mario PESQUERA) for everything hes done for his team. We could have won all three games we lost, as well as to lose the one we won. Almost all teams in this tournament are equal. I guess the will to win caused the (Dejan TOMASEVIC flagrant foul) incident, although I had said to my players to stay away from this kind of trouble and concentrate on the game. We will have time to analyse things after the tournament; now we have to go on with the next game."
Source: Athens News Service