Stunned Serbia buckled under Fiba World Cup expectations, says coach
Serbia’s coach said that his strongly fancied team collapsed under the weight of expectation as they were stunned by Argentina in the Basketball World Cup quarterfinals on Tuesday.
The South Americans’ grand old man Luis Scola knocked down a series of key buckets in a fourth-quarter surge to help crush Serbia 97-87 in the Chinese city of Dongguan.
Argentina are now undefeated in six games and headed for a Friday semi-final against reigning two-time champions the United States or France.
In Tuesday’s other quarter-final, Spain’s Ricky Rubio became the all-time leader for World Cup assists in a 90-78 win over surprise package Poland in Shanghai.
With Gregg Popovich’s US squad unbeaten but still failing to convince, Serbia had emerged as favorites — but their coach Sasha Djordjevic said his players had buckled.
“It was euphoria in our country — everybody followed us, everybody gave us a hand, everybody was eager to see us play in this tournament,” he said.
“We became favourites just like that, everybody was writing — not only in our papers but everywhere around the world — that we are the team, we are the ones, we will win,” he added.
“Sometimes that does not help.”
‘We deserve to be here’
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.
But it was Scola, 39 years old and the last remaining member of Argentina’s “Golden Generation” that won the Olympics in 2004, who remains on course for another milestone.
The World Cup is the only major international trophy that he has yet to win. He finished with a team-high 20 points and Argentina were the more fluid throughout the contest.
Trailing most of the game, Serbia threatened to take control when they grabbed a 70-68 fourth-quarter lead on a three-pointer by the Memphis Grizzlies’ Marko Guduric.
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.
“It just bothers me that people keep talking about a miracle, keep talking about a surprise, keep talking about nobody believes it,” said the veteran.
“This is far from a miracle — we are a good basketball team, we played great basketball all the way along, we deserve to be here.”
Spain’s coach Sergio Scariolo hailed Rubio after what he called a “tough war” with Poland.
Phoenix Suns’ Rubio made an electric start for Olympic bronze medallists Spain, who will play Australia or the Czech Republic in Friday’s semis.
He had nine points in the first half and grabbed a record 107th career World Cup assist, surpassing Pablo Prigioni of Argentina.
Rubio finished the game with 19 points, nine assists and five rebounds against a Poland side who were back in the World Cup after a 52-year absence.
“Tonight is a really great night to congratulate Ricky as the best passer in the history of the World Cup,” said Scariolo.
“It’s huge and I really feel proud of him. This is his night.”
Juan Hernangomez of the Denver Nuggets surged to 14 points before the break as Spain, ranked second in the world behind the United States, threatened to run riot.
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