It has been five years since the United States won its second-straight FIBA World Cup, but it won’t be defending those titles in 2019. The Americans were eliminated in the quarterfinals, along with Serbia, meaning this year’s edition was the first ever without the two countries (including Yugoslavia as Serbia) in the semifinals.
It was wide open for the four remaining nations – Spain, Australia, Argentina and France – to take home international supremacy until the Spaniards and Argentinians separated themselves Friday to guarantee medals and be one win away from international champions.
First, here is what the schedule for Sunday looks like:
Third Place Game – France vs. Australia (4 a.m. EST, ESPN2)
Final – Spain vs. Argentina (8 a.m. EST, ESPN2)
Now, let’s take a look at the two teams and how they get here:
In the first round, Spain went a perfect 3-0 in Group C against Puerto Rico, Tunisia and Iran, then ran through Group J in the second round with another undefeated record of 5-0, taking care of the Serbians, Italians and Puerto Ricans again. This set up a quarterfinals date with Poland, which the Spaniards handled, 90-78, to catapult them into the semifinals for the first time since Spain won the whole thing in 2006.
Against Australia in the semis, Spain needed two overtimes to put its opposition away. A tight game throughout, Australia’s Patty Mills drew a foul with four seconds left, his team down, 71-70. He made the first to tie but missed the second to take the lead, and a Ricky Rubio triple at the buzzer wouldn’t go, forcing an extra period to settle the score.
In the final moments of the first overtime, Marc Gasol drew a foul with four ticks to go as Spain trailed, 80-78. The veteran stepped up to the line and sank both, knotted the score at 80 and eventually leading to another five minutes. In the second overtime, Spain went on an 8-0 in the middle to pull away, amassing too much of an advantage for the Aussies to overcome as the Spaniards clinched their second championship game appearance in four World Cups/Championships.
Rubio, who joined the Phoenix Suns this summer, has led the way for Spain, averaging 15.9 points and 6.4 assists per contest. He has spearheaded the offense and became the all-time leader in assists in World Cup history against Serbia on Sunday, a sign of just how dominant he has been during his career in this event. The team has received help from some other familiar faces, like Gasol, and new, such as Juancho Hernangomez, as the two generations of Spanish basketball have combined to give the country a great shot at its second-ever World Cup title.
There is no Serbia in the semifinals because of the Argentinians, who knocked the Serbs out of the tournament in the quarterfinals, 97-87, behind a double-double from Real Madrid point guard Facundo Campazzo on 18 points and 12 assists. To start the tournament, Argentina beat Russia, Nigeria and South Korea in Group B in the first round, then triumphed over Poland, Venezuela and Russia again in Group I in the second round to earn a spot in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, Argentina outlasted France, 80-66, never trailing after taking a 25-24 lead midway through the second quarter. Luis Scola, at 39 years old, put up a double-double on a game-high 28 points on 8-of-17 shooting with 13 rebounds in another outstanding performance from Argentina’s long-reliable veteran. Gabriel Deck, Luca Vildoza and Campazzo rounded out the team’s double-digit scoring.
Campazzo and Scola have been the rocks for the Argentines this summer. Scola is putting up 19.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, doing what he has always done for his country, and Campazzo is tallying an average of 7.7 assists every outing. The team’s impact players mostly play professionally in Spain, like Patricio Garino and Deck, who have been important supporting pieces this summer.
This was Argentina’s fourth World Cup semifinal and first since 2006. The last time the team reached the championship game was 2002, and its only title came in 1950, the inaugural FIBA World Championship, the former name of this event.
Third Place Game
The Aussies defeated Lithuania, Canada and Senegal in the first round for a 3-0 mark in Group H and a trip to the second stage of the tournament. They repeated those performances with an undefeated run through Group L, with wins over France, the Dominican Republic and Lithuania again. In the quarterfinals, Australia faced and conquered the Czech Republic, 82-70, to reach the country’s first World Cup semifinals.
With a medley of NBA talent on the roster, there are plenty of Australian names you’d recognize. The one that has produced the most for the country this summer, though, is San Antonio Spurs guard Mills. He has been lights out in China, dropping 23.9 points per night and shooting nearly 40 percent from deep. In the quarterfinals against the Czech Republic, Mills shot a ridiculous 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, and while that performance was particularly exceptional, there’s no reason to believe he will slow down on the offensive end. Other than Mills, Australia boasts a bevy of skilled supporters, like Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova and Aron Baynes, who have plenty of NBA experience to draw back on in the World Cup’s big moments.
The French overpowered the Dominican Republic, Germany and Jordan in Group G in the first round, then finish second in Group L in the second round, going 4-1 against Australia, Lithuania and the Dominican Republic again, with a 100-98 loss to the Aussies the team’s only defeat this tournament. In the quarterfinals, France eliminated the United States, 89-79, in a victory that made international headlines and sent the team to its second-straight FIBA World Cup semifinals and third-ever appearance this far into the event.
Evan Fournier of the Orlando Magic has been France’s premier scorer, averaging 20.3 points per game, but Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert has been a machine, posting an impressive 21.1 average efficiency rating per contest. Nicolas Batum and Vincent Poirier round out the team’s NBA talent, but there has been a ton of impact from France’s non-NBA talent. Shooting guard Nando De Colo, who plays for Fenerbache Spor Kulubu Dernegi in Turkey during the year, has been crucial to be run. His scoring ability has proven to be a necessity, including his 18 points against the Americans in the quarters.