Argentina defeats France 80-66, to face Spain in World Cup final

Published 13.09.2019 19:02
France's Frank Ntilikina looks dejected after the match as Argentina's players celebrate their victory in FIBA World Cup semifinals at Wukesong Sport Arena, Beijing, China, September 13, 2019. Reuters Photo
France's Frank Ntilikina looks dejected after the match as Argentina's players celebrate their victory in FIBA World Cup semifinals at Wukesong Sport Arena, Beijing, China, September 13, 2019. (Reuters Photo)

Power forward Luis Scola scored a game-high 28 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as Argentina breezed past France 80-66 to book their place in Sunday's basketball World Cup final against Spain.

France blew the tournament wide open by beating favorites and reigning champions the United States in the quarter-finals, but they never got going here as center Rudy Gobert struggled and shots from beyond the arc would not drop for them.

Frank Ntilikina top-scored for the French with 16 points and Louis Labeyrie added eight off the bench, but all too often they left open lanes to the basket for the aggressive Argentine attack to exploit.

Scola made the most of their defensive lapses, scoring ten points in the first quarter and he went on to hit three of four three-pointers and make nine of 10 free throws over the course of the game in a dominant offensive performance.

Facundo Campazzo drained a deep three to send the Argentines into halftime leading by seven, and though Labeyrie's strong first-half showing off the bench had kept the French in touch, they were down by double digits midway through the third period.

Gobert's game was summed up by a third-quarter dunk attempt that would have cut the lead to eight, but the ball cannoned off the back of the rim as France's attempt at a comeback stalled.

Argentina's smothering defense limited Gobert's opportunities inside and forced France into a succession of three-pointers, but they could only hit seven of their 31 long-range shots on the night.

Led by the energetic efforts of Scola, Argentina closed out the game and will now play their first World Cup final since 2002 against a Spain team that beat Australia 95-88 in a double-overtime thriller earlier on Friday.

Scola was asked what Sunday will mean to him, and he didn't hesitate with the answer.

"Everything," he said.

The veteran Argentinian forward didn't need to give more of an explanation. The World Cup is one win away, and Scola made sure his team would have a chance to hoist the trophy.

Gabriel Deck scored 13 points and Campazzo added 12 for Argentina, a team with no active NBA players on its roster and still made its first gold-medal game in Olympic or World Cup play since the 2004 Athens Games. And when he made his way to the locker room, Scola was greeted by chants of "M-V-P" from teammates.

He corrected them with a smile: "MBP," he said. "Most Beautiful Player."

Indeed, on the court the 39-year-old's game is still very much a thing of beauty. Showing no signs of fatigue, he played 34 of the 40 minutes and saved his best for the very end.

"Luis told us before every game, including today, that we can win — that we are a tough, tough team to beat," Argentina center Tayavek Gallizzi said. "Just focus on our game. It's incredible. At his age he is playing better than all the younger guys."

Ntilikina and Evan Fournier each scored 16 for France, which will play Australia for the bronze on Sunday. Nando De Colo scored 11 for France, a team that looked nothing like the one that topped the U.S. in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

Gobert, who led France in that win over the Americans, scored only three points against Argentina.

"From the first to the last minute, it was complete domination," Gobert said, tipping his cap to Argentina.

Both semifinal winners got two days off after their quarterfinal victories. Australia and France both played their quarterfinals on Wednesday, and France coach Vincent Collet said he thought that was a factor.

"I didn't want to find any excuse, but I think so," said Collet, who cancelled practice Thursday because of his team's travel demands. "For me, it's not fair that one team has two days to recover and prepare even if they don't know the first day who will be the opponent. They know it'll be one or the other, so they can prepare for both."

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