Day 5 Men: ITA 76 - ARG 75
ATHENS (Olympics) - Italy, Argentina and a bat in the Helleniko Indoor Arena took part in the latest Olympic nailbiter in Athens on Monday night.
The Italians blew a late eight-point lead but still prevailed 76-75 as recent Detroit Pistons signing Carlos Delfino missed an open layup at the buzzer.
Italy, as a result, finish second in Group A and Argentina third.
Neither side know who their opponents will be in the quarter-finals until the final Group B game of the day between Greece and Puerto Rico.
Delfino, a star at Skipper (Fortitudo) Bologna was poised to be a hero when he broke free from Alex Righetti and received an inbounds pass from Pepe Sanchez with 1.7 seconds left.
Delfino, who helped his country win the South American Championships earlier this summer, missed the shot and Italy rebounded as time expired.
In the preceding minutes a bat flew back and forth above the hardwood and even attached itself briefly to the trousers of Greek referee Lazaros Voreadis, who showed remarkable poise, standing still and looking relaxed before the flying rodent took off.
The result reinforces the theme of parity in this tournament, with almost every team capable of winning any game.
Argentina were runners-up at FIBA's 2002 World Championships and have as many stars as any outside Team USA.
Emanuel Ginobili is a San Antonio Spurs sensation, and Andres Nocioni and Delfino are both in the NBA next season with the Chicago Bulls and Pistons, respectively.
Italy, just as they were last summer when they finished third at the European Championships, have no real big names but play so well as a team that they are always dangerous.
Alex Righetti, just as he did against Serbia & Montenegro, was a key contributor again this time as a starter. He had 14 points, including two of two from three-point range. Massimo Bulleri, who was fouled with less than four seconds left on a drive by Ginobili and made the two free throws that won the contest, had 16.
Niko Radulovic also had 16 and Gianmarco Pozzecco finished with a team-high 17. Ginobili and Luis Scola poured in 19 apiece for Argentina.
From Jeff Taylor, PA International, Athens Exclusively for FIBA
Alex RIGHETTI (ITA), Guard:
On the game:
"I think that the key of the game today against Argentina was defense. We played 40 minutes with passion and we managed to block their shooters."
On the next opponent in the quarterfinals:
"Either we play with Greece or Puerto Rico, I think that the game will be very difficult since both teams are strong. Especially, Greece that has the advantage of playing in his home court."
Massimo BULLERI (ITA), Guard:
On the game:
"We were not lucky today, as many people think so. We played very good defense and we managed to balance the offence. Most of the Argentineans players are familiar to us since they play in Spain or Italy. We deserve this victory. We are very happy that we ranked second in our pool. We look forward to know which team is going to be our opponent in the quarterfinals. Greece or Puerto Rico, I am sure that the game will be exciting."
Gianmarco POZZECCO (ITA), Guard
On the game:
"We are in a very good shape. Today we play free, without thinking what is going to happen in the next phase. Of course, we are happy that we made it to rank second, but all that really matter is that we are in the best eight teams. I think that today both teams offered to the fans a good performance and especially the last minute was thrilling."
|Press conference quotes:|
Gianmarco POZZECCO, Guard (ITA)
"I was asked in the mixed zone it this was a strange game. In a way it was. The win of China over Serbia/Montenegro worried us a little, but we are here to win. Calculations are just a distraction for us. There is a possibility that we face Greece in the quarterfinals. If so, it is going to be a very tough game, against the team with the home advantage and its public, and we know how warm the Greek public can be. But this is really their only advantage over us. My only concern is about the referees possibly feeling psychological pressure in fornt of this audience. But I think it won't happen, referees have shown that they are honest."
Carlo RECALCATI, Head Coach (ITA)
"This was a real game, and this is very important. Both teams played openly. I heard many talk about us facing the United States or Greece, and this is indeed highly probable. But players must keep themselves out of that reasoning. The game was very close to the character of both teams. We fought hard all the way through. We tried to rebound well and keep the score low, and we won. We also spared (Gianluca) BASILE for the quarterfinal. He is recovering well, and we are very happy about that. (Michele) MIAN is going through X-rays tonight or tomorrow morning and we'll see how bad his situation is."
Emanuel GINOBILI, Guard (ARG)
"It was a very tough game, as we expected it to be. Italy plays great Basketball, with solid defense. We started well, but then made too many mistakes and Italy caught up on us. Any team could have won, but unfortunately it wasn't us."
Ruben MAGNANO, Head Coach (ARG)
"We are still unable to maintain a consistent level of performance. We allow our opponents to get into the game, and this is something we must keep working on. Now the first round is finished, and we don't know yet who we are facing. In any case the game will be crucial for us, marking the future of our team in its attempt to move on."