Joined: Apr 26, 2006
|Posted: Mon Sep 11, 2006 11:57 am Post subject: Spain Takes Home the Gold
|SAITAMA, Japan, Sept. 3 (Ticker) -- Pau Gasol's pain from a broken left foot has all but disappeared. The joy in Spain will be felt for a long time.
Spain proved that it is more than just Gasol and a supporting cast, rolling to a 70-47 victory over Greece on Sunday to earn the gold medal for the first time at the World Championships.
Jorge Garbajosa and Juan-Carlos Navarro scored 20 points apiece and Felipe Reyes and Carlos Jimenez also played prominent roles to more than compensate for the absence of the NBA All-Star.
Even Gasol's younger brother, Marc, grabbed seven rebounds and helped to neutralize Greek center Sofoklis Schortsanitis, who scored just two points.
"A gold medal around my neck takes away all the pain," said Pau Gasol, who was named tournament MVP after averaging team highs of 21.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in the first eight games.
Spain (9-0) earns an automatic berth to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and becomes the first nation to win a World Championship or an Olympics with a spotless mark since Team USA in 2000.
Pau Gasol cried when he left the court with a broken foot after Spain's 75-74 victory over Argentina in the semifinals on Friday. This time, the 7-foot power forward cried tears of joy after his teammates made him proud with an awe-inspiring performance.
"This is fantastic," Spain coach Pepu Hernandez said. "We came out with so much emotion and now we are world champions."
Spain wore t-shirts which read "Pau tambien juega" (Pau is also playing) as it came through the tunnel before the game.
Reyes started for Gasol and scored all 10 of his points in the first half when Spain built a 43-23 lead. Jimenez added 11 rebounds.
Greece (8-1), the 2005 Eurobasket champions who stunned the United States, 101-95, here in the semifinals on Friday, never pulled closer than 16 points in the second half.
"This is the greatest basketball lesson I have ever seen," said Jose Luis Saez, the president of the Spanish federation. "It's a lesson of pride and team effort. Everybody thought that without (Pau) Gasol we had no chance, but Spain has proved it is a true team."
Garbajosa, who was signed by the Toronto Raptors in the offseason, made six 3-pointers, and Spain's trio of guards - Navarro, Jose Calderon and Sergio Rodriguez - was too quick for Greece.
But the story was Spain's suffocating defense. While Greece shot 63 percent and seemed to drive to the basket with ease against Team USA, it failed to score more than 13 points in any quarter vs. Spain and shot 33 percent (18-of-55) overall.
Vasileios Spanoulis, who recently signed with the Houston Rockets, especially struggled for Greece, making just 1-of-10 shots. Dimitris Diamantidis was 2-of-9 from the field.
"We had an emotional game against the USA so we came into this game with a lot of nerves," Greece coach Panagiotis Yannakis said. "But they played great. I think we both proved in this tournament that the level of basketball in Europe is very high."
Greece managed just 12 points in the first quarter and 11 in the second quarter against Spain.
Each team managed only 11 points in the third quarter and Greece never threatened in the fourth quarter. After Spanoulis scored the first basket of the fourth quarter and his only one of the game with 8:54 left, Garbajosa hit a 3-pointer and Berni Rodriguez converted a layup off a pass by Sergio Rodriguez to start a 12-2 run.
Greece scored five straight points to pull within 66-43, but Garbajosa hit his sixth 3-pointer of the game with 2:22 left.
Pau Gasol came out of the players' tunnel before the game on crutches, wearing his red warmup top and jeans. He often hugged and slapped hands with his teammates during timeouts.
In the final minutes, Pau Gasol cried on the bench before hopping to midcourt to join his teammates in a circle.
Spain's previous best finish here was fourth in 1982.
Mihalis Kakiouzis led Greece with 17 points. The silver medal here is the best showing for Greece, which finished fourth here in 1994 and 1998.
Team USA (8-1) won the bronze medal with a 96-81 victory over Argentina on Saturday. The rivals will meet again next summer in the FIBA Tournament of the Americas in Caracas, Venezuela, where only two Olympic berths will be available.
In Sunday's seventh-place game, Lithuania defeated Germany, 77-62.
Bouncing back from consecutive losses to Spain and Turkey, Lithuania (5-4) shot 53 percent (32-of-60) from the floor, forced 25 turnovers and limited Germany (5-4) to just eight points in the final period.
Dallas Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki scored 18 points for Germany and averaged 23.2 for the tournament, trailing only China's Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets (25.3)