RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Spain’s two losses to open the Olympics seem like a distant memory after three straight wins has put the Spanish men’s basketball team back into medal contention.
Spain advanced to the quarterfinals with a 92-73 win against Argentina on Monday and suddenly is playing as well as any team in the tournament.
“We had a distracting situation during our training camp and many players missed many, many practices,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “We couldn’t really get 100 percent prepared and it showed.
“We have been in this situation before. We know how to play under pressure. There are a lot of players who know what it takes to win, especially with a lot of self-confidence. We know each other really well. …. We’re not a team (that will) get crushed after the second loss.”
The two-time defending silver medalists (3-2) are the No. 2 seed in Group B and face France (3-2), which finished third in Group A. With Spain’s win, Brazil was eliminated.
France and Spain have meet in some pivotal games in big tournaments.
Spain knocked France out in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Olympics, but France exacted some revenge in 2014, beating Spain in the World Cup — in Spain. But Spain returned the favor last summer, beating France in the semifinals of the EuroBasket to clinch an Olympic berth.
“Every matchup is so close and we know each other too good,” Spain guard Jose Calderon said. “So, let’s see what happens in two days. I think we’re ready for that fight, I think that they’re ready as well and we’ll see.”
Spain fell behind 8-0 to start the game, but regrouped to take a 22-11 first-quarter lead that it never gave up. Rudy Fernandez scored 10 straight during the 22-3 scoring run and finished with 23 points.
The Argentines (3-2) seemed to play with a sense of urgency only in spurts and never got within 10 points in the second half. Previous starters Andres Nocioni, who played for the Chicago Bulls for five years, and point guard Facundo Campazzo both came off the bench.
“We needed our full energy to play against Spain,” Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. “It was our fifth game, we played 48 hours ago, two overtimes. … Was not a good day for us to play a team like Spain. They’re more athletic, bigger than us. They (have) NBA experience and they know how to play these games. They need to win because if not they go home.”
Argentina already had a quarterfinal berth in hand. Its seed won’t be determined until after the last game of pool play, Lithuania-Croatia.
Nicolas Laprovittola paced Argentina with 21.
“We were lacking a little bit of juice after the tough, tough game against Brazil,” Argentina guard Manu Ginobili said. “And to add, they’re a great team. They’re a great team that started the tournament struggling, losing two games they shouldn’t have lost. So they ended up needing this game a lot. They wanted it more. They were more aggressive and they played sharper than us.
“We wanted to win, too. It’s not that we didn’t care.”