Friday, September 16, 2011

France, Russia edge closer to Olympics

KAUNAS, Lithuania, Sept 15, 2011 (AFP) - France and Russia lived up to their status as favourites to advance to the semi-finals of the 2011 European Championships on Thursday and take a step closer to the London Olympics.

France shook off some early rust of not playing for four days as Tony Parker scored eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and Nando De Colo added 16 points in France’s 64-56 come-from-behind victory over Greece.

Russia enjoyed a 77-67 victory over Serbia to make the last four.

French coach Vincent Collet was happy his team reached at least the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament next summer.

"This was our first goal. Very often in our past against Greece we had close games but they would beat us in the end. Today it was our turn," said Collet.

"We struggled to come back but we managed to do it. We were very courageous and mentally very strong."

Greece opened an 11-point lead in the first quarter and held the lead until the beginning of the fourth quarter - 45-40.

But Nicolas Batum and Parker sparked a 9-0 run for a 49-45 lead. Batum nailed a second triple and Parker helped push the gap to 56-50 with three minutes left.

Greece pulled within 56-54 with two minutes to play but Batum sandwiched two jumpers around a block of a Nick Calathes lay-up for a 60-54 French advantage.

And Joakim Noah came up with a huge steal on Nikos Zisis with 19 seconds left and France ahead 62-56 to secure the game.

Greece, who could not take advantage of 17 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks from Ioannis Bourousis, will take on Serbia for a spot in the pre-Olympic qualifying Tournament.

Andrei Kirilenko collected 14 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks in guiding Russia to a 77-67 victory over Serbia to reach the semis.

Victor Khryapa added 11 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals while Andrey Vorontsevich and Aleksey Shved combined for 21 points as Russia remained undefeated in the tournament.

"This victory is sweet, especially when it’s against a high quality of opponent. We’ve had a great run and our record speaks for itself. Tonight’s game is significant but tomorrow’s game (against France) is more important," said Russia coach David Blatt.

Russia held Serbia scoreless for four minutes in the first quarter but only led by five points.

Khryapa nailed three-pointers on either side of Vitaly Fridzon’s triple as Russia built a 29-17 advantage.

Serbia, who were playing without Milenko Tepic and Aleksandar Rasic, cut the margin to seven at half-time and it was a one-point game, 39-38 after two Teodosic free throws.

But Russia increased the gap to six after three quarters. And then in the fourth quarter, the Russian defence held Serbia scoreless for six possessions and Blatt’s team opened a 64-54 lead with four minutes to play.

Vorontsevich made two big baskets to keep Serbia at an arm’s length and then Sergey Monya nailed a triple with 24 seconds left to push the lead back to 10 points and ice the game.

In the day’s first game, Mantas Kalnietis nailed a three-pointer and a free throw in the final 19 seconds to secure an 80-77 victory for Lithuania over Slovenia and give the host nation a spot in the pre-Olympic qualifiers.

Kalnietis scored 17 points while Sarunas Jasikevicius added 12 points and seven assists for Lithuania, who will play against either Greece or Serbia for fifth place.

Slovenia will not have a chance to play at the Olympics despite Goran Dragic collecting 16 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.

But Dragic missed a potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer.

© Copyright (c) AFP


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