Italy is the only unbeaten team at Euro champs
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Advancing through the first round as the only undefeated team, Italy has provided the unexpected at the European basketball championships.
More surprisingly, though, Russia and Turkey are going home.
Italy was in what, on paper at least, appeared to be the most difficult group.
Russia won the Olympic bronze medal last year and also took the bronze at the European titles two years ago. Turkey was runner-up at the 2010 world championship at home.
But Italy beat both Russia and Turkey to finish atop the group, ahead of Finland and Greece. Finland is in the second round for the second straight time, while Russia and Turkey were left to ponder what went wrong. Russia never overcame the absence of Andrei Kirilenko, while Turkey went out despite having three NBA players, Hidayet Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova and Omer Asik. Turkey remains unable to make an impact away from home.
In the final games of Group D, Italy maintained its unbeaten run with a 82-79 victory over Sweden, Finland defeated Greece 86-77 and Russia salvaged some pride by beating Turkey 89-77.
Spain, the defending champion, lost its opening match to Slovenia, then regrouped and dominated the next four. France, which lost the final to Spain two years ago, also began with a loss — to a German team without Dirk Nowitzki.
France, loaded with NBA players led by the San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker, also rallied strongly and won its group, ahead of Ukraine and Belgium.
“We know that we have had a good first round, with one lost game against Slovenia, so we know that we have to correct some things and we are ready for whatever is about to come,” Spain’s point guard Ricky Rubio said after scoring 16 points in an 83-59 victory over Georgia on Monday.
Spain is without Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Juan Carlos Navarro, but still appears to be good enough to be able of winning its third straight European title. No team has won three straight since Yugoslavia in the 1970s.
France is a finals contender again. The French rested forward Nicolas Batum and trailed by 12 at halftime, before outscoring Belgium 32-9 in the third and cruising to a 82-65 victory.
“We are proud of how we played the second half, now we have to do it for 40 minutes,” forward Boris Diaw said. “We are usually at our best when we have our backs to the wall.”
Lithuania, another perennial European power, avoided being eliminated despite losing 78-72 to Bosnia-Herzegovina, which needed to win by 10 or more to advance.
Bosnia led 72-58 after Mirza Teletovic knocked down a 3-pointer with 5:22 left in the game. Teletovic finished with 31 points but Lithuania cut the deficit and went through. Linas Kleiza had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Lithuania.
Latvia defeated Macedonia, a semifinalist two years ago, 76-66 to also advance. Serbia topped that group despite losing 83-76 to Montenegro while resting its most effective players, center Nenad Krstic and guard Stefan Markovic.
Serbia has the youngest team in the tournament and needs to be more consistent, but starts the second round with two wins since it has beaten both Latvia and Lithuania in group play and the results carry over.
Croatia was crushed by Spain in its opener but has rebounded well and tamed the Czech Republic 7-53 to advance.
Host Slovenia is also through from that group despite losing 71-61 to Poland.
The tournament continues with two groups of six teams — Lithuania, France, Latvia, Ukraine, Belgium and Serbia in Pool E and Greece, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Finland and Croatia in Pool F.
The top four from each advance to the medal round.